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Sunday, 6 May, 2001, 21:29 GMT 22:29 UK
Leaking Nigerian oil well capped
Aftermath of Oct 1998 pipeline explosion in Jesse
Nigeria has been plagued by disastrous oil fires
The oil company Royal Dutch Shell says engineers have capped a broken well that has been pouring out oil and gas in the Ogoni region of southern Nigeria.

Villagers complain that farm land and fish stocks have been destroyed by the spill.

The clean-up operation has not yet begun and Shell has not given details of the extent of the pollution. Oil and gas began leaking a week ago.


This current evidence of tampering with the well-head strongly suggests it was a deliberate act

Shell spokesman

Shell believes the spill from the abandoned well was caused by sabotage. The company said pipes at the well appeared to have been sawn through, and that nuts and bolts had been removed.

Sabotage denied

But the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) denied the sabotage claim.

map of Niger Delta

"If they were removing bolts, then why did they leave just one? If it was really vandalism then they would have finished the job," a MOSOP spokesman said.

The BBC's Nigeria correspondent, Barnaby Phillips, says oil installations in the Niger delta are often deliberately damaged by criminal gangs hoping to receive compensation from the companies or to find employment in the subsequent clean-up.

He says there is deep mistrust of Shell in Ogoni land, and the charged atmosphere there will make it difficult for the clean-up to proceed smoothly.

Protests

Shell has been prevented from producing any oil there since 1993. The well involved in this latest spill was abandoned in that year when, according to Shell, there was no time to seal it properly.

Shell pulled out amid local protests that it had caused widespread pollution and had colluded in political repression - charges it denies.

Fuel shortages - caused by a combination of smuggling and creaking refineries - have forced the Nigerian Government to pay world prices to import refined products.

Hundreds have died in catastrophic oil fires triggered by people who tapped pipelines in their hunger for fuel.

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See also:

03 May 01 | Africa
Oil 'time-bomb' in Nigeria
22 Jan 01 | Africa
Nigeria hears Ogoni oppression
12 Jul 00 | Africa
Oil wealth: An unequal bounty
15 Jan 01 | Africa
No end to Saro-Wiwa's struggle
08 Jun 00 | Africa
Oil: Nigeria's blessing and curse
26 Mar 01 | Americas
US court backs anti-Shell lawsuit
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