Nigerian militants threatened on Wednesday to broaden their ”oil war” to offshore oilfields and announced attacks on a crude oil pipeline in the Niger Delta and another Shell-operated facility.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), responsible for attacks that have cut a fifth of Nigeria’s oil output, said it would launch attacks outside Rivers state for the first time since clashes began on Saturday.
Oil traders on Wednesday began taking notice of the escalating violence and that helped push prices above $94 a barrel in early trading. The market has fallen sharply this week on the impact of the credit crisis on the global economy.
The heaviest fighting between militants and security forces in more than two years has spread to about 10 villages, but have remained in Rivers state, home to oil city Port Harcourt. Some oil industry security sources estimate 100 people have died.
”After Rivers, the hurricane will be heading to the neighbouring states in the Niger Delta,” Mend said in an emailed statement.
Militants have bombed pipelines, platforms, gas plants and oilfields, halting up to 115 000 barrels per day of oil production in the last five days, government officials said.
Nigeria’s oil is popular in the United States and Europe because it is easily refined into gasoline, diesel and other crude products.
Mend, which says it is fighting for more local control of the impoverished region’s oil wealth, attacked Shell’s Orubiri flow station late on Tuesday with help from the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, another militant group in the region.
”It is feared the facility may have caught fire due to intense, sporadic gunshots and massive dynamite and bomb explosions,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, spokesperson for the military task force in Rivers state.
Musa said no soldiers were killed in the attack, which involved an assault by eight militant gunboats.
Mend said it also attacked a key crude oil pipeline, possibly operated by Agip and Shell, at Rumuekpe in Rivers state earlier on Wednesday.
Militants said their next targets would be major offshore oilfields.
”Soldiers and oil workers are advised to abandon all oil facilities including the offshore rigs of Bonga and Agbami as we want to minimise casualties,” Mend said.
Mend launched its most daring strike in June against Shell’s $3,6-billion Bonga oilfield, which lies 120km from the coast, forcing the company to shut down the 220 000 barrel-per-day (bpd) operation for several days.
Mend’s other target, Chevron’s Agbami oilfield, is Nigeria’s newest oilfield. The facility, which started production in late July, is expected to pump about 100 000 bpd by February.
Shell, Agip and Chevron officials were not immediately available for comment. — Reuters