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The Observer: Nigeria hostage feared dead is freed

Oil worker and six others are safe, family is told, a day after reports said he was not coming home

Lorna Martin, Scotland editor
Sunday October 22, 2006

The wife of a Scottish oil worker feared dead after being kidnapped by Nigerian militants last night said she was ‘ecstatic’ after learning he was still alive and had been released.

Father-of-two Paul Smith from Peterhead in Aberdeenshire was one of seven workers freed yesterday nearly three weeks after being snatched at gunpoint. Reports in Saturday newspapers said the 30-year-old had died on Thursday morning. Some said he had succumbed to natural causes or malaria, while others said he had been shot.

However, the American oil giant Exxon Mobil yesterday confirmed that the men, captured on October 3, had been freed and were in good health.

Speaking from her home in Peterhead, Paula Smith said she was ecstatic. They have two young sons, Jordan, four, and Keiran, two. ‘We’ve just had the brilliant news, they’re all safe and well,’ she said.

‘I’ve spoken to him. He’s in Port Harcourt. He told me that he had been released and everything is fine. I was told he was dead. I’m just ecstatic.

‘I couldn’t believe it was him on the phone,’ she added. ‘There’s no words to explain how we feel right now.’

The other British men have been named as Graham McLean, 43, from Elgin, father-of-three Sandy Cruden from Inverurie, and Graeme Buchan, also from the north-east of Scotland. All were employed by Aberdeen-based Sparrow Offshore and Texas-based Oceaneering International. They were taken from inside the Exxon workers’ compound at Eket, near Port Harcourt.

Malcolm Wilson, chief operating officer at Sparrows Offshire, released a statement last night: ‘I’m delighted to tell you that the intensive efforts by the governments and companies involved have been successful in securing the safe release of the three Sparrows employees and those of other companies who were taken hostage in Nigeria 18 days ago.’

His firm would not give details of communications between Nigerian government officials and the kidnappers. Police said they had no information about the terms of release. Hostage taking has become a lucrative business for armed groups in the Niger Delta – an area of creeks and swamps the size of Scotland.

Several Nigerian security guards were killed when armed men, thought to have been from the Niger Delta Frontier Force, stormed the compound and seized the four Scots, a Romanian, a Malaysian and an Indonesian. One of the men killed was a close relative of a powerful local chief who is understood to have put pressure on the kidnappers to free their hostages.

The group had demanded £21m for the men’s release. Despite official denials, in most cases some sort of ransom is paid and captives are returned unharmed.

Last night, foreign office minister Lord Triesman thanked the Nigerian authorities for their assistance.

A few days after they were captured, McLean managed to contact his 15-year-old daughter Monique on his mobile phone and said the group were all ‘okay’.

In January, Nigel Watson-Clark and three other foreign workers from an offshore oil platform were taken by rebels. The former paratrooper was held by an armed gang for 19 days. Security expert John Hudspith was one of nine oil workers seized three weeks later during a raid on a boat contracted by Shell. He too was released unharmed more than five weeks later.

The latest kidnappings took place despite promises by the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in September to take strong action against the armed groups. Earlier this month 60 Nigerian hostages were seized in a raid by Nigerian villagers who overran an oil pumping station. They were released after two days. Local reporters believe the problem is likely to get worse in the run-up to Nigeria’s elections next year.,,1928574,00.html and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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