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Posts on ‘March 2nd, 2006’

MSN Money: Royal Dutch Shell Welcomes Hostage Release

March 02, 2006 11:03 AM ET
All Associated Press News AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP)
Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday welcomed the release of hostages in the oil-producing Nigerian delta and said it is working for the release of three remaining captives held by Nigerian militants.
The militants released six hostages on Wednesday, 12 days after they were captured. They are still holding two Americans and a Briton and are demanding a greater share of oil wealth pumped by Shell and other oil majors in the Niger Delta. read more

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ShellNews.net: An example of the harsh conditions facing Royal Dutch Shell in Sakhalin

The Itar-Tass report below provides a vivid example of the harsh environment in which the Shell Sakhalin2 project is taking place.
Maritime rescuers in Sakhalin trying to save 3 fishermen on ice-floe
02.03.2006, 06.55
YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, March 2 (Itar-Tass) – For the second day running, maritime rescuers on Russia's Far-Eastern island of Sakhalin are going out to the Sea of Okhotsk in an effort to rescue three fishermen, who are being carried away into high sea on a breakaway ice-floe.
Rescuers can't get to the fishermen as the space between the coast and the drifting ice-floe is filled with big amounts of fragmented ice making the use of a boat almost impossible.
The operation is taking place near Sakhalin's southeast shore.
Wednesday, rescuers from the Far-Eastern Maritime Salvage Center saved the lives of 13 fishermen near Sakhalin and another four fishermen, near the coast of Magadan region, located much to the North form Sakhalin.
All the of the men seemed to tread strong ice so as to dig holes in it for further winter fishing, a kind of natural sport and passtime in Russia, but adversely directed sea currents and winds proved stronger then the ice shield and broke it up.
So far, there have been no victims among the lovers of winter under-ice fishing this year in Sakhalin, but the passion for this amateur sport drove to death four fishermen near Magadan in January and in February. read more

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Interfax Information Services, B.V.: Gazprom and Shell Discuss Sakhalin-2 Project

Shell and Gazprom have set up a joint management committee to discuss the inclusion of the Russian gas giant in the Sakhalin-2 project, Chris Finlayson, Shell's manager in Russia, told journalists on Tuesday.
He said that official negotiations between the shareholders in the project and Gazprom only began a month ago, and that a joint management committee was set up, which has already met twice and will meet again next week.
Finlayson said that at the moment the negotiations are progressing very successfully, but that a lot of technical and organization work remains to be done.
He said that Shell is working in close contact with other shareholders in the project – Mitsui and Mitsubishi – to make the deal with Gazprom as effective as possible.
He said that according to agreements reached, Gazprom will become a participant in the project and will have a stake of about 25%, and that this would be done by selling a stake to Gazprom, and that the shareholders should decide how exactly to do this. Finlayson said that the other side of the deal is to exchange a share in Sakhalin-2 for a stake in the Zapolyarnoye-Neocomian project, being developed by Gazprom.
He said that he does not think that this issue will be decided soon, but that he believes that it will be a very successful and profitable deal, both for Gazprom and for Shell. He said that by taking part in the project Gazprom will be in the very center of a project to build the first liquefied natural gas plant in Russia and will be a participant in the LNG market, and Shell will receive access to the gas market in Western Siberia. He said that Gazprom is a very important partner for Shell.
COMMENT FROM A SHELL INSIDER:
Putting aside the spin and hype in the article, a more consise interpretation would be: “After several weeks of negotiations, Shell and Gazprom fail to reach agreement, form committee to continue discussions.”
read more

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ShellNews.net: Shell Whistleblowers legal action against Shell resumes

The case which Shell whistleblower Dr John Huong brought against Shell for wrongful dismissal resumes in the Malaysian High Court on 15 March when more Shell employees will give testimony and be subjected to cross-examination.
The unprecedented defamation case which EIGHT ROYAL DUTCH SHELL companies have collectively brought against Dr Huong, a geologist and humanitarian who worked for Shell for 29 years, is awaiting a response from Shell to the Defence recently filed by lawyers acting for Dr Huong.
Both cases revolve around Shell’s failure to abide by its own STATEMENT OF GENERAL BUSINESS PRINCIPLES (the SGBP) – its voluntary code of business ethics pledging honesty, openness and integrity in all of Shell’s dealings. Shell senior management has already acknowledged serious breaches of the code in relation to the reserves fraud. Dr Huong was reportedly the first Shell employee to blow the whistle internally at Shell about false information being given to Shell shareholders regarding hydrocarbon reserves. Dr Huong acted in accordance with the SGBP.
Shell management disregarded his conscience driven warning on the reserves (and subsequently on health and safety issues) and thereafter punished, humiliated and victimised Dr Huong in blatant breach of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Shell purports to support. The Defamation action has silenced Dr Huong since June 2004. He is under threat of imprisonment for any breach of an Injunction and Restraining Order in respect of information published under his name on this website. The litigation does not extend to the European joint authors/publishers of the offending articles – Alfred and John Donovan – but is directed solely at Dr Huong, who is a Malaysian national. Shell International is on record as supporting the right of Alfred Donovan to criticise Shell on his website but this freedom for some unknown reason does not extend to Dr Huong. The gagging order is in flagrant breach of his rights to freedom of expression under the same Declaration.
The date and place of the Industrial High Court hearing will take place as follows:
Date: 15, 16 and 17th March 2006
Place: Bangunan Binamas (same building as HSBC)
8th Floor (Industrial Court),
Padungan, Kuching City
Sarawak, East Malaysia
Shell is faced with a real dilemma on what to do next in regards to the defamation suit. It is already an International laughing stock with the prohibited articles and/or extracts proliferating on websites around the globe despite the High Court Injunction. The entire articles – Instalments 1, 2 & 3, are even posted on their own global website, Shell.com (TellShell Archive). Extracts are also posted within the Malaysian jurisdiction on an award winning website which promotes freedom of expression in what is a repressed society.
If Shell withdraws the action Dr Huong will be able to say exactly what he wants. He has Shell internal documents stored away in various non-Malaysian locations and is champing at the bit to write a book about his terrible experiences at the hands of a discredited dishonest Shell management which was also responsible for the reserves fraud.
If Shell pursues the action Dr Huong will be given the opportunity in open court to expose Shell management for what it is – incompetent, unscrupulous and vindicative. Various NGO’s will have a field day supplying testimony about Shell's misdeeds. For the first time Shell management will be confronted in the witness box about environmental damage, undercover activity against its perceived enemies (such as Greenpeace) and crimes against humanity e.g. alleged murder, repression, pollution etc in the financial rape of Nigeria, in association with corrupt Nigerian regimes. All subjects covered in Dr Huong’s articles. read more

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Business Times (Malaysia): Iran invites firms to develop South Pars field

March 2 2006
TEHERAN, Wed: Iran placed four new international tenders to develop its South Pars natural gas field, the first ones to be issued since Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh took office in December.
The state-owned National Iranian Oil Co is inviting international contractors to develop phases 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the field, the world's largest natural gas deposit, documents posted on the oil ministry's website showed.
The four phases are expected to produce 100 million cubic metres a day of gas for Iran's domestic network, the documents showed.
They will also provide at least 2 million tonnes of ethane gas a year, 2.1 million tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas a year and 160,000 barrels of gas condensates a day for export.
Iran's Parliament in December accepted Vaziri-Hamaneh, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fourth nominee for oil minister, ending a political struggle that had left the second-biggest producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries without an oil chief since August.
Iran is competing with Qatar to develop the South Pars gas deposit, which they share.
The contracts will be conducted on a “buyback” basis, according to the tender documents. Iranian contractors and manufacturers will need to contribute to at least 51 per cent of the contract value.
Iran's constitution forbids foreigners to enjoy ownership rights over its natural resources. Instead, they must agree to finance the development of reserves, hand them over to Iranian control once the contracted output target is achieved and then recover their investment at an agreed rate of return from subsequent production under so-called buyback agreements.
Pre-qualification documents for the four phases will have to be submitted before April 1.
Investor wariness about Iran's nuclear programme as well as concern about President Ahmadinejad's protectionist economic policies have slowed down the pace of foreign investment in the Islamic republic during the past 10 months.
The United Nations' nuclear watchdog will meet in Vienna on March 6 to decide whether to ask the Security Council to take action against Iran over its nuclear programme.
Iran says the programme is intended to produce energy for civilian use. The US and the European Union say it may be a front for the development of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, in a report yesterday, Total of France and Royal Dutch Shell plc said they did not expect to imminently sign gas production deals with Iran, contradicting earlier comments from an Iranian state-owned oil firm.
The Pars Oil and Gas Co surprised western oil executives and investors at the weekend by saying that Total, Shell and Spain's Repsol YPF were going to sign deals this week to develop the giant South Pars gas field in the Gulf. – Bloomberg read more

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Beurs.nl: FOCUS: Oil Cos Face Challenges Obtaining New Reserves

By Benoit Faucon
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

LONDON -(Dow Jones)- A string of disclosures in recent weeks has revealed the greater challenge some oil companies face in trying to find more oil than they produce.
For some, buying rival companies helps mask the growing difficulty of obtaining new oil and gas at economic rates. But the industry at large is under pressure as national champions become globally competitive, rigs are hard to come by and companies increasingly feel the impact of U.S. regulations.
The rate at which new hydrocarbon reserves are added to make up for every barrel produced is a key indicator of an oil company's future growth.
'It's going to be challenging for international companies to renew their reserves,' said Philipp Lotter, an analyst at credit rating agency Moody's. 'Political risk is increasingly a factor.'
Spanish-Argentine oil and gas producer Repsol YPF SA (REP) showed how bad things can get, saying on Jan. 26 that its base reserves of crude oil and natural gas only increased by about one barrel for every five it pumped last year. It expects to do only slightly better in 2006. Repsol also announced a 25% reduction in its proven reserves at the end of 2005 compared with a year earlier.
The day after Repsol's disclosure, Chevron Corp. (CVX) said it had replaced 175% of its 2005 production. But the positive ratio was due to non-organic factors, chiefly the acquisition of Unocal. Without these, it would have replaced only 40% to 50% of its reserves in 2005 through the development of its existing assets.
And despite reporting a record fourth-quarter net profit on Feb. 2, Anglo-Dutch major Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) said it had replaced just 60% to 70% of its 2005 production, excluding mineable reserves from Canada's Athabasca Oil Sands.
Some companies are faring better than others, however. In February, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) said it had replaced 143% of the oil it produced in 2005 with new proven reserves based on year-end prices. The world's largest oil company by market capitalization benefited from strong Qatari additions to its reserves and less exposure to production-sharing contracts, or PSCs, with governments than most of its peers.
Political Risk, National Champions
On the whole, global oil and gas companies face the two-pronged threat of growing competition from state-owned energy companies – from Russia, India or China – and some governments throwing up new barriers to their resources, Lotter said.
Last month, Repsol said the 25% reduction in its base natural-gas and crude-oil reserves was largely due to a new hydrocarbons law passed in May in Bolivia resulting in less favorable investment terms.
Oil companies face the prospect of a widespread shift to technical service contracts such as those being considered in Kuwait, instead of traditional equity interests, said Peter Newman, a managing partner for global oil and gas at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
Such regimes increasingly would preclude companies participating in the projects from booking related reserves at all, Newman said in mid-February on the sidelines of London's IP Week conference.
And in Russia, a pending subsoil law could make certain fields off-limits to foreign companies.
Drilling Into The Numbers
Credit Suisse analysts highlighted two challenges facing oil and gas companies: scarce equipment needed for finding and producing hydrocarbons and U.S. financial rules on how to account for reserves.
In a report in January, the bank said 'the main constraint' to booking new reserves in 2006 through exploration 'will likely be rig availability.'
In 2005, it said, a key negative factor was the 'increased focus on compliance with strict SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) definitions.'
For instance, an SEC rule, demanding that year-end crude prices be used to book reserves, has a negative impact on the numbers accounted for under production-sharing contracts.
'Under PSCs, if (oil and gas) prices go up, reserves go down for the contractor,' Deloitte's Newman said.
That's because an oil company's entitlement to hydrocarbons falls when prices rise, favoring the host government.
Without the impact of year-end pricing, the replacement ratio for Italy's Eni SpA (E) would have been 115% in 2005, not 40%. Eni said its bookings of reserves were negatively affected by PSCs.
On the other hand, the impact of year-end pricing helped boost Exxon Mobil's replacement of reserves to 143% in 2005. Without it, the oil giant's ratio would have been 112%, the company said.
As of 2004, 59% of Exxon Mobil's proven reserves were in the U.S., Europe and Canada, regions in which production-sharing contracts aren't the norm. By comparison, only 34% of Shell's developed proven reserves were in those regions that year.
In some cases, the replacement of reserves also has been hurt by a greater focus on developing unconventional oil and gas reservoirs. These resources are more difficult to extract and aren't generally booked as reserves under SEC rules.
For instance, reserves in Shell's Athabasca Oil Sands project cannot be booked under SEC regulations. If included, they would have added net proven mineable reserves of 166 million barrels of oil equivalent in 2005.
But Wood Mackenzie analyst Tom Ellacott says he doesn't believe oil majors are facing that great a challenge in replacing their reserves. Shell has a lot of hydrocarbons 'in the tank, from unbooked commercial reserves,' and Chevron has a 'great (long-term) portfolio,' he said.
These companies would seem to agree. Chevron has vowed to improve its organic replacement of reserves as new, large projects are booked, especially in deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
Shell is targeting an average of 100% replacement of production between 2004 and 2008, betting mainly on projects and exploration already in the pipeline.
Company Web sites: http://www.shell.com http://www.repsol.com http://www.chevron.com
-By Benoit Faucon, Dow Jones Newswires; +44-20-7842-9266; [email protected]
(END) Dow Jones Newswires read more

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Western People: Locals want Corrib work to resume: Shell

By: Orla Hearns
SHELL E&P Ireland Ltd (SEPIL) says is has received a lot of calls from local people urging it to recommence work on the Corrib gas project in North Mayo.
Protestors officially re-opened the Rossport Solidarity Camp last Saturday, February 25 in anticipation of renewed efforts by the developer to build the controversial onshore gas pipeline and refinery. But SEPIL says suggestions that a full scale mobilisation back to work on the Bellanaboy terminal site will take place in the coming weeks are unfounded.
The Rossport Solidarity Camp was established last August by supporters of the Rossport 5 who had been jailed for breaching a High Court order preventing them from interfering with works relating to the Corrib gas project. It closed for the winter months but was officially opened again on Saturday, February 25 last.
A statement from the camp explained that it “represents a physical and symbolic barrier to Shell operations in the area”.
SEPIL told the Western People that while it has had a lot of calls from locals urging it to return to work and provide employment, it would not embark on the terminal development until it was satisfied that it could be accomplished in a sustainable way and with the consent of the local people.
With regard to the construction of the on-shore pipeline, SEPIL notes that work on this aspect of the development had been suspended last July pending the out-come of the independent safety review of the pipeline commissioned by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The final report is expected shortly. SEPIL is also engaged in the mediation process being led by Mr Peter Cassells.
“We hope that the combination of the publication of final report of the Independent Safety Review along with face-to-face talks with landowners and others who have outstanding concerns can ultimately resolve any outstanding issues. The company has no plans to re-start work on the onshore pipeline activity at the present time,” SEPIL said.
SEPIL’s offshore pipeline works have also stood suspended since August of last year to allow for a period of public discussion and dialogue. The company maintains that it has no plans to recommence such works at present.
The company did however, last Friday, announced details of provisional plans to begin well completion works in the Corrib gas field in late April/early May 2006.
“This work is entirely separate from either offshore or onshore pipe laying activities or the proposed gas processing plant at Bellanaboy,” SEPIL stated.
The company stresses that the only on-shore works currently underway are the environment related procedures at the terminal site in Bellanaboy. SEPIL says it is enjoying a good working relation-ship with protestors at the site at present. The developer says it remains hopeful that the Rossport 5 will decide to re-join the ongoing mediation process.
Dr Mark Garavan, spokesperson for the Rossport 5, said the men have yet to determine their next step in relation to the mediation process and are mindful that they must return to the High Court on March 20 next when it will be determined whether they should be punished for breaching a High Court order.
The Rossport 5 have sought clarification from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources as to what he intended by the mediation process. The Minister’s comments to date have been discouraging. The men say the scope of the mediation has been widened so much as to render it meaningless.
Meanwhile, SEPIL says well known local journalist, Mr Christy Loftus, is due to take up his new position as External Affairs Advisor with the company later this week. A company spokesperson confirmed that Mr Loftus will be based in Mayo as part of a four person External Affairs team which includes Castlebar native, Mr John Egan, as External Affairs Manager. She declined to elaborate further on Mr Loftus’ new role until he has completed the standard company induction. read more

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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Icahn's Push in Korea Shows Rise Of Raiders Is Roiling New Markets

By LAURA SANTINI and JASON SINGER
March 2, 2006; Page A1
The rapid, global spread of shareholder activism has brought one of Wall Street's most battle-hardened corporate raiders to the gates of one of the world's more change-resistant emerging markets.
Carl Icahn, fresh from retreat in a prolonged showdown with New York media giant Time Warner Inc., is squaring off for what could be a long proxy battle with KT&G Corp., South Korea's biggest tobacco company by revenue. Just as he did with Time Warner, Mr. Icahn has taken a big stake in KT&G and is agitating to break up the company to unlock value for shareholders.
His effort is one of many recently by hedge funds and other activist investors, who are flush with cash and hungry for profits. Some have launched well-publicized campaigns, such as one that persuaded Royal Dutch/Shell Group to merge its two boards and another that aims to force Germany's stock exchange to merge with other markets in Europe. Others campaigns have been waged more quietly, from Hong Kong to Germany, Japan and France.
As Mr. Icahn's interest in KT&G shows, the rise of raiders and other advocates of change is roiling many markets around the world. Hedge funds and even traditional fund-management firms such as Fidelity Investments and Templeton Global Advisors Ltd. have become more aggressive shareholders in places farther afield.
Even when they fail to get their way — as happened when one investment firm tried to unseat the head of South Korea's biggest oil refiner last year — the raiders often can cash out with hefty gains because their efforts frequently boost the target's share price.
Money managed by global-minded hedge funds, all looking for any advantage in returns, has more than doubled from just two years ago to an estimated $1.26 trillion, according to Eurekahedge Pte. Ltd. Global private-equity assets have risen more than 150% in the same period to $246 billion, according to Thomson Venture Economics.
In Korea, Mr. Icahn and an investor group including hedge fund Steel Partners II LP stepped up the pressure this week, saying Tuesday they might make a tender offer to shareholders of KT&G. The group, which owns 6.72% of KT&G, approached the company's board last week with a $10 billion takeover proposal. The board rejected the overture, and both sides are girding for a proxy fight.
Aggressive investors can stir nationalist sentiments in long-isolated markets — as in the early 1990s, when Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens took a stake in Japan's Koito Manufacturing Co. and tried, but failed, to gain a board seat. They also can focus attention on issues of corporate governance in countries where such questions have rarely been raised.
“There's no one standing up for shareholders,” says Eric Knight, whose Knight Vinke Asset Management, of New York, has been involved in some of Europe's highest-profile displays of shareholder activism. “Many of the world's largest public companies are managed by individuals who nominate each other to the boards, determine their own remuneration and manage corporate assets as they alone see fit.” The 46-year-old Mr. Knight was among the most vocal supporters of merging the two boards of Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell Group, a move the group had opposed for years. The merger took place in 2004, creating Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
Last year, Mr. Knight, whose fund's big investors include the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest U.S. pension fund, encouraged Suez SA of France to acquire the 50% of Belgian power company Electrabel that it didn't already own. To lobby for the move, Mr. Knight organized two town-hall meetings and invited 600 Belgian mayors and aldermen to hear how a deal would benefit them. Backing from local governments was integral to Mr. Knight's campaign to force Suez to buy the Electrabel stake for $14 billion.
“The high-profile position taken by Eric, I would say, caused Suez to move,” says Glen Suarez, an executive at financial adviser Soditic Ltd. in London.
Mr. Knight now is pressuring Suez again, after the company several days ago announced a merger with Gaz de France SA that he says isn't fair to Suez shareholders. Mr. Knight says he wants Suez to spin off its water and waste-management divisions, which he estimates are valued at €15 billion ($17.77 billion) and then merge the remaining energy division with Gaz de France.
In another battle, Mr. Knight is urging Dutch media giant VNU NV to break itself into three companies rather than accept an $8.6 billion buyout from a group of private-equity firms. The company was put up for sale after Mr. Knight, along with Fidelity and Templeton, forced VNU to abandon an $8 billion acquisition its board agreed to last year.
Mr. Knight says he picks these fights because he sees companies pursuing strategies that aren't in shareholders' best interests. In some cases, he says, companies have told him they must instead focus on employees, suppliers and the community.
Meanwhile, Children's Investment Fund Management (U.K.) Ltd. of London has shaken up the Continent's publicly traded stock exchanges. The fund is trying to force Euronext NV, a Dutch company that runs many European exchanges, to merge with Germany's Deutsche Börse AG. TCI, as the fund is known, also owns shares of Deutsche Börse and last year prevented the German exchange from bidding for London Stock Exchange PLC. When Deutsche Börse Chief Executive Werner Siefert wouldn't capitulate to its demands, TCI forced him to resign.
Late last year, TCI disclosed that it had accumulated 18% of Hong Kong's Link REIT, a real-estate investment trust. It also has bought large minority stakes in several Hong Kong-listed property companies. TCI declined to comment on its plans in Asia.
As shareholder activism increases, fear of raiders may motivate more companies “to look to the interests of controlling shareholders,” says Robert Zulkoski, chief executive of Pangaea Capital Management in Singapore, which operates a joint venture with U.S. hedge fund Pequot Capital Management.
In Korea, Mr. Icahn and his partners began pushing for change at KT&G a few weeks ago after they had accumulated a stake of more than 6%. They proposed spinning off the company's ginseng operation, the “G” in KT&G, and unloading laggard real-estate holdings. KT&G rejected those proposals, arguing that it would prefer to come up with strategies to enhance the value of its ginseng business and its real estate.
The investor group came back to the board with a takeover offer, which KT&G declined on Monday. Mr. Icahn and Warren Lichtenstein, who runs Steel Partners, say they are willing to commit as much as $2 billion of their personal funds to acquire the company.
A former state-owned enterprise, KT&G is a national icon. It sells more than 30 brands of cigarettes in a country where one in four people smokes. The first foreign-led hostile takeover attempt in Korea has created a furor, dominating headlines and prompting the country's finance minister to tell the National Assembly that the government won't interfere, despite popular sentiment that foreigners should stay out of Korean businesses.
KT&G shares have risen more than 22% since mid-January. Whether or not Mr. Icahn succeeds with a tender offer, he still may wind up with a handsome profit.
That is what happened when Sovereign Global Investment, an investment vehicle based in Dubai for New Zealand's Chandler family, waged a two-year battle to unseat the chairman of Korean oil refiner SK Corp. In 2003, SK's Chey Tae Won, a descendent of the parent company's founders, was convicted of an accounting fraud involving a trading affiliate. As SK's shares plummeted, Sovereign acquired a 14.99% stake.
The fund quickly called for big changes in SK's corporate governance, including the election of independent directors, electronic proxy voting and, most radically, the ousting of Mr. Chey. When SK seemed determined to back Mr. Chey, Sovereign took its case public in news conferences, seeking to drum up support.
That only unified Korean opposition, which characterized Sovereign as a vulture fund out to plunder one of Korea's national treasures. Other Korean chaebols, or conglomerates, stepped in as white knights. At last year's annual meeting, shareholders voted to keep Mr. Chey.
Still, Sovereign earned about $850 million on its SK investment. Though Sovereign's campaign failed, it did make a dent. The company has added several outside directors and has created special transparency committees. Lee Seung Hoon, head of investor relations, says SK wants to move beyond its troubled past. Sovereign reaped substantial financial gains from its effort, Mr. Lee says, and SK shares have continued to rise since the fund's exit.
Write to Laura Santini at [email protected] and Jason Singer at [email protected] read more

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The Times: Oil rebels release six hostages

Warri: Nigerian separatist guerrillas released six of their nine foreign hostages last night but gave warning that they would step up attacks to shut down the country’s oil industry.
The militants said that they would not hand over the remaining three captives, including John Hudspith, a British security expert, until two ethnic Ijaw leaders are freed from jail and Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company, compensates polluted villages. James Ibori, the Delta State governor, welcomed the freed men — Macon Hawkins, an American, Bardese Mohammed and Aly Shady, from Egypt, Tony Santos from the Philippines and Muado Somsak and Arak Suwana from Thailand — to his lodge in the city of Warri.
Mr Hawkins was released on his 69th birthday, after 13 days in the Niger Delta swamps. He suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. “We are very pleased that six of the hostages have been released. I want to thank everyone that has assisted in this effort. I want to thank the captors for deeming it fit to release six out of the nine,” Mr Ibori said.
“But I want to appeal to them to release the others. I want to tell them that there is no political gain for holding on to the remaining three for more days any longer.” (AFP) read more

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AFX Europe (Focus): ChevronTexaco cuts production in Nigeria by 13,000 bpd; Shell ops attacked again

LAGOS (AFX) – ChevronTexaco Corp has been forced to cut production in Nigeria by 13,000 barrels per day after a pipeline in an area patrolled by armed militants sprang a leak, a company spokesman Michael Barrett said.
The cause of the damage to the pipeline has not been determined, Barrett said, but it came at a time when separatist guerrilla fighters were sabotaging nearby facilities operated by Royal Dutch Shell.
Chevron has shut down the 16 inch pipeline bringing crude oil from the Makaraba flow station in the Niger Delta swamps 40 kilometres northwest of the oil city of Warri to the firm's Escravos export terminal.
“Chevron Nigerian Limited has isolated the section of pipe and suspended production at Makaraba as of yesterday,” Barrett told Agence France-Presse by telephone.
Separately, a Shell company source told AFP that the militants had continued overnight to dynamite the firm's evacuated facilities near the Chanomi Creek, just 10 kilometres south of the Makaraba pipeline.
Details of the latest damage were unavailable, as the company has pulled staff out from the western delta area for safety reasons.
Since Feb 18, when heavily armed fighters attacked Shell's Forcados export terminal and kidnapped nine foreign oil workers, the firm has slashed output by 455,000 bpd, equivalent to 20 pct of Nigeria's exports. read more

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AP Worldstream: Nigerian militants release six foreign oil-worker hostages; three still in captivity

OSMOND CHIDI
Mar 02, 2006
Militants have released six foreign oil workers they deemed “low value,” but held on to two Americans and one Briton and threatened crippling new attacks aimed at cutting off all oil production in Nigeria.
American Macon Hawkins, who turned 69 Wednesday, was the first to be released, set free in the presence of foreign journalists visiting the West African nation's swampy delta region. Militants said in an e-mailed statement afterward that the aging diabetic was freed “on account of his age and poor health.”
Hours later, he joined five other frazzled-looking former captives _ two Egyptians, two Thais and one Filipino _ at the offices of James Ibori, governor of the restive southern Delta State.
A militant spokesman confirmed two other Americans and a Briton were still being held. The nine were kidnapped on Feb. 18 from a barge in the southern Niger Delta. The spokesman referred to the freed hostages as “low-value” and said they came from countries “without interests in the oil industry.”
The militants, who claim to be fighting for a greater share of oil wealth on behalf of an impoverished population, warned more violence was likely to strike Africa's biggest crude producer.
Nigeria usually exports 2.5 million barrels daily and is the United States' fifth-largest supplier. A spate of militant attacks on pipelines and other oil facilities has already cut oil production by 20 percent.
“We demand the intervention of a neutral arbiter in the resolution of this conflict and reiterate our objective of totally destroying the ability of the Nigerian government to export crude oil it has stolen from the Niger Delta over the past 50 years,” the militant statement said. “We will commence with attacks in another area of the Niger Delta with an aim to ensuring the total discontinuation of export of onshore crude oil.”
Militants handed Hawkins to surprised journalists visiting the fighters in the creeks and waterways of oil-rich southern Nigeria. The reporters took the calm but bedraggled oil industry worker to the Nigerian military.
Hawkins said he celebrated his birthday in captivity with a warm soft drink and was looking forward to cleaning up.
“I had a warm Sprite this morning but I'm looking forward to a hot shower with some shampoo, some underarm deodorant and a razor,” Hawkins said. He said he bore his captors no ill will.
“I have no animosity toward them at all,” he added. “I've seen their little villages, they're dirt poor, poor as field mice.”
Hawkins and the other workers were seized by militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta from a barge owned by their employer, Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
Hawkins, shown to another group of reporters while still in captivity on Friday, said he was diabetic but that he was receiving his medication in captivity.
Militant groups have attacked Nigeria's oil industry for years and hostage takings are commonplace. Most are released unharmed, as were four hostages taken in a similar kidnapping earlier this year.
The militants said Hawkins was released “with a stern warning not to return to the Niger Delta unless as a visitor.” The other oil workers remain in Nigeria “at their peril,” they said.
The militants reiterated demands that the government release two of their region's leaders from prison, while demanding a greater share of proceeds from the oil pumped from beneath their southern lands, which remain deeply impoverished. The government has dismissed the militants as criminals. read more

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AFX Asia (Focus): Oil prices continue to rise in Asian trade

Oil prices continue to rise in Asian trade
Mar 02, 2006
SINGAPORE (AFX) – Oil prices rose in Asian trading hours as the market ignored healthy US crude and gasoline stockpiles to focus on geopolitical worries, about Nigeria in particular, dealers said.
At 12.50 pm (0450 GMT) here, New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, was up 0.18 usd at 62.15 usd from its close of 61.97 usd in the US overnight.
“The concern right now is Nigeria, with the Chevron incident,” said Tony Nunan a Tokyo-based energy analyst with Mitsubishi Corp.
Chevron said yesterday it had shut down one of its oil facilities in the Niger Delta, costing Nigeria 13,000 barrels per day (bpd) in lost output.
Chevron spokesman Michael Barrett said the firm had shut the Makaraba flow station after an unexplained leak in a crude oil pipeline connecting the plant to the Escravos export platform caused a minor spill.
Africa's biggest oil producer has been rocked by attacks on oil installations run by Western majors. Shell has suspended production in the delta region, cutting output by 455,000 bpd or 20 pct.
Separatist guerrillas yesterday released six of nine foreign oilmen they were holding captive, but warned that they would step up attacks aimed at shutting down Nigeria's oil industry. read more

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THE NEW YORK TIMES: World Briefing: Africa, Europe, Asia, Americas

By LYDIA POLGREEN (NYT)
Published: March 2, 2006
AFRICA
NIGERIA: MILITANTS FREE 6 OF 9 HOSTAGES A militant group in the oil-producing delta region that has been demanding a greater share of the oil wealth said in an e-mail message that it had released an American hostage, Macon Hawkins, 68, from Kosciusko, Tex., an employee of a company hired by Royal Dutch Shell to lay oil pipelines, citing his age and health. Mr. Hawkins is diabetic. News services later reported that five oil workers from Egypt, the Philippines and Thailand who were kidnapped with Mr. Hawkins on Feb. 18 had also been freed. Three other foreign oil workers — from the United States and Britain — are still being held. The group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, reiterated its demand that two leaders of the Ijaw ethnic group be released from prison and that a neutral third party mediate its dispute with the government. Over the past two months, the group has taken hostages and shut down 20 percent of Nigeria's daily output of 2.5 million barrels of crude oil. LYDIA POLGREEN (NYT)
NIGER: APPEAL FOR HELP IN BIRD-FLU CULLING Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, appealed for international help to cull poultry after an outbreak of the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza. The government has ordered the systematic culling of poultry in affected zones to stop the disease from spreading among its poultry but said it needed equipment like protective suits and chemicals before it could begin. (REUTERS)
EUROPE
BRITAIN: 3 CHARGED IN $92 MILLION ROBBERY The police charged two men with conspiracy and a woman with handling stolen goods in connection with last week's $92 million cash robbery in Kent. One, John Fowler, a car salesman, was also charged with kidnapping the manager of the depot where the cash was stored. They are to appear in a Kent court today. (REUTERS)
KOSOVO: PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi resigned after criticism of his stewardship as the province seeks independence from Serbia. He cited the need to preserve a coalition majority and the cooperation of Kosovo's Western backers. (REUTERS)
ASIA
SOUTH KOREA OPPOSES MOVE TO REVISE JAPAN'S CONSTITUTION President Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea signaled his opposition to Japan's move to revise its pacifist Constitution, saying that Japanese leaders have been trying to justify their colonial history in Asia. In a speech commemorating the anniversary of a 1919 Korean uprising against Japanese colonial rule, Mr. Roh said Japan should become a “normal country, a world leader” by changing its conduct, not by “revising its laws or building up its military.” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan rejected the criticism, saying that Mr. Roh should consider postwar Japan's peaceful history. South Korea and other Asian countries invaded by Japan have reacted angrily against a series of comments by Japan's foreign minister, Taro Aso, who has said that Taiwan owes its current high educational standards to Japanese colonial rule and that Japan's emperor should visit the Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial where 14 Japanese war criminals are enshrined. NORIMITSU ONISHI (NYT)
AMERICAS
MEXICO: INQUIRY INTO LEAK OF 'DIRTY WAR' REPORT Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca announced that his office had begun an investigation into the leak last week of a secret report prepared by a special prosecutor's office that accused the armed forces of kidnapping, torturing and murdering hundreds of suspected subversives during the so-called dirty war of the late 1960's to the early 1980's. The government had withheld the report since December, saying that it placed too much blame for the abuses on the military. Its authors, worried their report would be censored, leaked it to several prominent writers, and it was posted on the Internet by the National Security Archives, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington. The special prosecutor, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto said an official version of the report would be released on April 15. ANTONIO BETANCOURT (NYT)
MEXICO: MEXICO CITY BACKS AWAY FROM ORDER CLOSING HOTEL Mexico City officials announced that they would not immediately shut down the popular Sheraton María Isabel after its representatives provided documents indicating that the 755-room hotel had corrected most of a long list of code violations. Virginia Jaramillo Flores, the leading city official in the borough where the hotel stands, said the hotel was given 72 hours to come to full compliance with zoning laws. The hotel stirred outrage among the leftist leaders of the city government last month when, at the request of the United States, it forced out 16 Cuban officials meeting there with American oil executives. GINGER THOMPSON (NYT) read more

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BBC Monitoring Service: Nigeria rebels release six foreign oil-worker hostages

United Kingdom; Mar 02, 2006
Excerpt from report by Radio France Internationale on 2 March
After two weeks of detention, six out of nine foreign Shell [oil company] workers were released yesterday in Nigeria. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said it did not receive any ransom. The separatists are still holding three hostages and have threatened to keep them until all their demands are met. [Passage omitted]
Source: Radio France Internationale, Paris, in French 0730 gmt 2 Mar 06
BBC Monitoring read more

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Financial Times: Nigerian militants release 6 hostages

By Dino Mahtani in Warri and agencies
Published: March 2 2006 00:03 | Last updated: March 2 2006 00:03
A Nigerian militant group responsible for the abduction of oil workers and attacks that have disabled oil facilities in the delta region Wednesday night released six of the nine hostages they held.
But the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) continued to hold three captives – two Britons and an American – and warned of further attacks on the oil industry. The nine hostages – all contract workers for Royal Dutch Shell – were kidnapped on February 18.
The staggered releases saw first a 69-year-old US citizen, Macon Hawkins, handed over to foreign journalists visiting the Niger Delta in an act which suggests the militants have developed an understanding of how to manipulate the foreign media. Boat-loads of heavily armed militants in combat gear and wearing black masks met journalists deep in the creeks of the oil-producing delta, where they released Mr Hawkins in what was described as a gesture of “goodwill”.
The militants had warned of a “surprise” but stunned the small group of journalists present when they freed Mr Hawkins, having already tipped off other news agencies. Hours later five other captives – two Egyptians, two Thais and one Filipino – were also freed. There was no word on the remaining hostages.
Mend, which says it is fighting for the rights of the majority tribe in the delta, the Ijaw, has already caused considerable damage to the Nigerian oil industry in guerrilla-style attacks on facilities operated principally by Shell, Nigeria’s largest oil producer. The attacks have reduced by one-fifth the output from the world’s eighth-largest crude exporter.
Armed militancy in the delta has increased in the last few years in Nigeria with the onset of democracy in 1999. Security analysts and industry officials blamed politicians for arming many militant groups in the run-up to national elections in 1999 and 2003.
Many armed gangs belong to cartels that include military and political figures in the illegal theft of crude oil, the proceeds of which are often used to maintain sophisticated arsenals. While the militants’ rhetoric may be predicated on political marginalisation and economic deprivation among the Ijaw, some diplomats believe the movement’s grievances may be dictated more by turf wars over oil-rich territory and political dealings between Ijaw leaders and government officials. read more

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