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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 15:14 GMT
Furore over Nigeria's rescue attempt
By Senan Murray
BBC News, Abuja

A masked militant holding a gun in the Niger Delta (file image)
Delta militants have carried out a series of attacks and abductions
The death of a British oil worker and three others in Nigeria's first attempt to use force to free hostages in its troubled Niger Delta has drawn criticism from security experts.

"Quite frankly, I think the entire operation was a fiasco," the head of security for a major multinational oil company operating in the delta region told the BBC.

"Anyone with even the least understanding of the Niger Delta will tell you that strong-arm tactics don't work there.

"There's nothing wrong with negotiating with the hostage-takers like we have done in the past, and safely, with huge success. Any time strong-arm tactics are applied, this sort of thing is bound to happen."

In the future, if we had people taken, I would be talking to the government security forces to make sure that they don't try and rescue them
Security expert
But the Nigerian Navy, which led the operation, has described it as a success.

"It was a precise and very successful operation," Nigerian Navy spokesman Obiora Medani told the BBC.

"If out of seven people, you are able to rescue six and people still go ahead to call it a fiasco, then I think they are not being sincere."

'Unfortunate'

Expatriate oil workers are frequently kidnapped in the volatile Niger Delta, but this is the first time a foreign hostage has been killed.

Usually, the kidnappers release the hostages unharmed after a few days or weeks and generous ransom payments that are never publicly admitted.

A woman walks along oil pipelines in the Niger Delta
Despite its oil resources, the Niger Delta area remains poor

The only other known hostage death occurred in August under similar circumstances after Nigerian troops mistakenly opened fire on a group of militants that had helped with the rescue of the captive, a Nigerian employee of Royal Dutch Shell.

"It was unfortunate that someone died, but that is something that is bound to happen when you have to shoot," Captain Medani said.

Gunmen abducted the seven hostages early on Wednesday morning from a supply vessel belonging to a subsidiary of the Italian oil giant ENI SPA off the coast of southern Nigeria in the latest attack by militants on oil facilities in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

The Briton was killed later in the day when his captors ran into a Nigerian naval patrol boat in the remote mangrove creeks of the Niger Delta swamp and a gun battle ensued.

A soldier and two militants also died in the shootout, security sources say.

It was learnt that the other six expatriates who survived the firefight are receiving medical attention on an oil rig owned by Lone Star Oil in Odiama creek, which lies a few kilometres south of Port Harcourt.

'Don't rescue them'

"In the future, if we had people taken, I would be talking to the government security forces to make sure that they don't try and rescue them," said an expert who coordinates security for another major Western oil company operating in the delta.

Map

"Oil workers are obviously going to be more concerned for themselves. But will this affect production or the way we do business? I would say probably not," he said.

Nigerian authorities, as usual, are silent on what went wrong.

"I have not been briefed by the Navy and so I cannot say anything about the issue for now," said Anthony Aziegbemi, who is the chair of the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Navy.

"If we have a hostage policy in Nigeria, to be quite honest I don't know," Mr Aziegbemi said. "But I would think that we should have one."

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil exporter, producing roughly 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) pumped mainly from the Niger Delta, where most inhabitants remain poor.

The country is the world's eighth-biggest oil exporter and the fifth-largest source of US oil imports.




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