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Cablegate: Nigeria: Hostage-Taking in the Delta

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 001148

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EPET ASEC PINS PGOV NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: HOSTAGE-TAKING IN THE DELTA

1.(SBU) SUMMARY: Three third-country nationals employed by a
U.S. oil servicing firm were kidnapped June 23 by an Ijaw
criminal group in the swamps of Delta State. Shell is
managing the crisis and claims it will not accede to demands
of a ransom. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports indicate the
military is attempting a rescue. End Summary.


2.(SBU) Anglo-Dutch Shell and Ft. Lauderdale-based Seabulk
International confirmed press reports of the June 23
kidnapping of three expatriate staff on a Seabulk boat near
the Warri Southwest local government area (LGA). The boat,
one of 24 vessels deployed in the Niger Delta by Seabulk, was
fulfilling a contract by Panama-based Willbros for Shell's
production and drilling platforms on the Yokri field in
Forcados. The boat, manned by 12 expatriates (none
American), was confronted by 45 armed "pirates," according to
officials of both companies. Reportedly the bandits were
from neighboring (to the east) LGAs of Borutu and Bomadi.
The German captain and two Filipino crew members were taken
by the pirates and are apparently being held in the creeks of
Borutu or Bomadi.


3.(SBU) Shell, the operator of the platform and an oil
company experienced in dealing with Niger hostage-takings, is
trying to resolve the incident with the consent of Seabulk
and Willbros, according to Seabulk's Port Harcourt-based
Operations Officer Tomasz Maczka. In a June 30 conversation
with Embassy's Corporate Responsibility Officer (CRO), Maczka
explained that Shell established an Emergency Response Team
(ERT) at its Warri Zonal Headquarters. Shortly after the
hostage-taking, Shell received a letter demanding an
immediate payment of 400,000 naira (approximately USD 3,000)
for food for the hostages and a ransom of 25 million naira
(approximately USD 200,000). According to Maczka, Shell also
received photos of the hostages and passed these on to the
Seabulk General Manager, Roy Donaldson, who has moved to
Shell's Warri zonal headquarters.


4.(SBU) Maczka expressed unhappiness with Shell's decision
to release a June 26 public statement giving details of the
kidnapping, enunciating Shell's policy of not paying ransom
to criminals, and appealing to the Nigerian government to
resolve the crisis. He claimed that Shell did not consult
Seabulk or Willbros on the statement. Maczka also drew a
connection between this publicity and June 30 press reports
that the Nigerian Army and Navy have deployed troops to
Borutu and Bomadi LGAs in an attempt to rescue the hostages
-- a move not welcomed by the Seabulk official.


5.(SBU) According to Shell's Director for External Relations,
Precious Omoku, Shell took the lead in this situation to
ensure that the two service contractors (Willbros and
Seabulk) did not pay ransom for the three expatriates. He
confirmed that Shell was in contact with the hostage-takers
and was preparing through them food and medicine for the
hostages. He claimed the Commander of the Army's 7th
Battalion in Warri has refuted the June 30 press report of a
military rescue operation. Omoku further disclosed that the
chief of Shell's ERT was apparently shot at his residence the
night of June 28; cause of the shooting or identity of any
assailant is unknown. To be safe, Shell has appointed a new
ERT chief.


6. (SBU) CRO on June 30 contacted Bello Oboko, President of
the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) -- the
group of armed Ijaw youth responsible for the ongoing
security crisis in the three Warri LGAs. Oboko claimed he
was aware of the kidnapping but vowed his "boys" were not
responsible. He attributed this act to Ijaw "pirates"
outside of FNDIC's area of operations. Oboko expressed
annoyance with this action at a time when FNDIC is attempting
to guarantee the operational safety of oil company personnel
and facilities in order to resume production in the creeks of
Warri (to be reported septel). The leader of the Warri
militants stated that he would find out who committed the
kidnappings and attempt to secure the hostages' release.


7.(SBU) Ijaw leader Chief Edwin K. Clark told CRO July 1 that
he will soon host, at his Uhwelli residence, a meeting with
the Ijaw leaders of the Borutu and Bomadi villages in which
the hostage-taking "pirates" operate. Disclosing that he
knows the boys behind the kidnapping, Clark said that he
opposed their "criminal behavior" and he would use this
meeting to pressure the communities to give up the hostages
and exert greater control over the criminal elements in their
ranks.


8.(SBU) Comment: Although the hostages are not AMCITS, this
new incident involves two U.S. companies with substantial
investments in the Niger Delta. The companies' decision to
allow Shell to take the lead is probably wise and hopefully
will lead to an outcome with no casualties or injuries.
However, we are concerned about the possibility of an
attempted military rescue effort. The military lacks the
discipline and skills necessary to conduct a surgical rescue
in the harsh environment of the Delta. The wild card in this
crisis is the FNDIC Ijaw militants, who may take on the
unusual role of rescuers as they seek to promote an image of
peace-makers and protectors.
JETER

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