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Saturday, 5 August, 2000, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Freed oil rig hostages prepare for home
Nigerian oil installation
Nigeria's oil industry has long been the target of protesters
Five Britons who were taken hostage on two oil rigs in Nigeria are preparing to return home after being released.

The men, who were held hostage for five days along with 145 Nigerians, seven US citizens and a number of Australians and Lebanese, were released on Friday.

They were captured when 50 armed youths invaded the two flow stations in the south eastern state of Bayelsa on Monday.

A Foreign Office spokesman said they were flown onshore in two helicopters and are thought to be safe and well.

The oil rigs are owned by international oil company Royal Dutch/Shell, who refused the youths' demands for jobs as security personnel and catering staff as well as a 3,000 ransom.

map of Niger Delta
The oil rigs are in one of the most inaccessible areas of the Niger Delta
A spokeswoman for Shell said the group was being debriefed in Warri, southern Nigeria.

"Everyone is safe and we will be flying people back to their families as soon as possible," she said.

"We are glad that the situation has been resolved peacefully and everybody is safe."

An agreement was reached with representatives of the hostage-takers on Wednesday to free the men the following day.

But they only managed to return to the rigs, which are in one of the most inaccessible areas of the Niger Delta, on Friday to order the releases.

The hostages are employed by Mallard Bay and NGN Catering Company, service contractors for Shell.

Abject poverty

Shell has agreed to meet the representatives of the hostage-takers on 15 August to discuss their grievances.

Protesters regularly sabotage pipeline installations in the Niger Delta and take foreign workers hostage to draw attention to their cause, demanding money or jobs.

They usually want to highlight the lack of development and abject living conditions in the Niger Delta, where most of the country's oil is drilled.

Oil production in the Delta generates much of Nigeria's revenue, but historically the region has not benefited from the wealth.

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See also:

04 Aug 00 | Africa
Nigerian gunmen free hostages
12 Jul 00 | Africa
Oil wealth: An unequal bounty
08 Jun 00 | Africa
Oil: Nigeria's blessing and curse
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