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AP Worldstream: Nigerian oil unions set to strike over security fears

Published: Sep 13, 2006

Nigerian oil unions were set to start a three-day strike Wednesday to protest growing insecurity, a day after gunmen attacked a boat carrying oil workers, leaving one worker dead.

The country’s two biggest petroleum-industry unions had called the three-day action to protest the death of a member, killed in a shoot-out between government forces and militants in the oil-rich south.

On Tuesday, gunmen attacked a boat carrying Chevron-affiliated workers in the waterways of the oil-rich southern Niger Delta, and one worker died in what a white-collar union called an act of banditry. Two private security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because their employers bar them from talking to reporters, said the slain worker was Nigerian.

A Chevron company spokesman, Femi Odumabo, confirmed there had been an incident on Tuesday, but declined to give details. Military officials said they had no reports of casualties in the attack.

Peter Akpatason, the head of the blue-collar workers union, said his bloc and the white-collar union, which have a joint membership of around 20,000 Nigerians, would look to see if their concerns over security were being taken seriously before deciding on further action.

“We want to allow some time for reasoning,” Akpatason said.

The oil unions have frequently held strikes before without a big impact on production or foreign exports. However, gas stations often have lines several hours long as commercial fuel stores dwindle and aren’t replenished.

In Abuja, the capital, queues already stretched around the block at some stations early on Tuesday morning.

Wednesday’s strike was called after Royal Dutch Shell employee Nelson Ujeya was killed in a shoot-out between militants and government forces three weeks ago. He had been held hostage in a community dispute for nearly a month when local leaders and militants intervened to free him. Twelve people died when the military opened fire on the boat carrying him to freedom.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest producer of crude and the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States. Kidnappings and militant attacks in the southern Niger Delta region, where most crude is pumped, have cut production by nearly 900,000 barrels per day this year so far, helping send crude prices to historical highs.

The military said Tuesday it was offering nearly US$40,000 for information leading to the capture of a Nigerian militant leader accused of kidnapping foreigners in the oil-rich southern region.

A statement by Brig. Gen. Samuel Salihu said that Ateke Tom was wanted for kidnapping foreigners, armed robberies and stealing crude oil. Members of his gang were also sought, although the reward was offered only for Tom.

Nearly 50 foreigners have been kidnapped in the oil-rich Delta region so far this year, causing Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to order a crackdown in the southern Niger Delta region. All foreign hostages have been released unharmed, many after ransoms were paid.

Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report

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