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The Wall Street Journal: Nigeria Oil Workers Start Strike

Associated Press
September 13, 2006 5:58 p.m.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Oil workers’ unions launched a three-day strike Wednesday over worsening security in Nigeria’s oil-rich region as Chevron confirmed the death of a subcontractor in the restive southern area.

The country’s two biggest petroleum industry unions had called the action to protest the death of another worker, killed three weeks ago in a shoot-out between government forces and militants amid rising violence in the Niger Delta. It began Wednesday, with both company and union officials saying staff were staying home although disagreeing over the impact on oil exports.

On Tuesday, gunmen attacked a boat carrying Chevron-affiliated workers in the waterways of the oil-rich southern Niger Delta, and one worker died, labor union officials said. Chevron confirmed the death Wednesday and said two others were injured.

Chevron had no immediate comment on whether the strike would affect its output. But a London-based spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria’s biggest producer, said it was unlikely production would be greatly affected. “Arrangements have been made to reduce the impact of the strike on production, loading and the provision of essential services,” said Eurwen Thomas.

Nigeria’s oil minister said he didn’t expect the strike to have a significant impact on production.

“It’s symbolic,” Edmund Daukoru told reporters an OPEC conference in Vienna. Mr. Daukoru said he doubted that much volume would be lost during the walkout, adding: “I don’t think the unions themselves mean it to result in a big shutdown.”

But union leaders emerged from a meeting with government officials on Wednesday saying the strike was continuing and had already taken a toll on oil exports on the first day.

Peter Esele, leader of the white-collar Pengassan union, said reports from members showed work is stopped at domestic refineries and crude oil export terminals. “The tankers are not loading,” he told the Associated Press. He gave no further details.

Mr. Esele said leaders of his union and their blue-collar Nupeng counterparts will meet in Abuja on Thursday to weigh proposals made by the government to address their security concerns in the Niger Delta. They will also consider whether to call off the strike, he said.

The oil unions have 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. Lines at some stations stretched around the block on Wednesday 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.

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