Gunmen clash with Nigerian Navy in oil delta

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Gunmen have attacked Nigerian navy personnel protecting a Royal Dutch Shell oil facility in the Niger Delta, killing one sailor and stealing four speedboats belonging to the firm.
The attack on a navy houseboat at Nembe in Bayelsa state in the early hours of yesterday was an apparent retaliation for the sinking of four militant speedboats over the weekend by the Nigerian navy, military spokesman Colonel Rabe Abubakar said.
Shell spokesman Precious Okolobo said there was no damage to oil facilities or any impact on production but said he had no further details and referred inquiries to the security forces, Reuters says.
“The attack was jointly carried out by (militant leaders) Kitikata and Fara Dagogo,” Abubakar said in a statement.
“Regrettably in the process of defending the facility, one naval rating was killed, two sustained minor injuries and four Shell speedboats were carted away by the miscreants,” he said.
The main militant group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said it was not involved in the attack but put the death toll higher, saying three sailors were killed, four abducted and two navy gunboats seized.
Attacks on industry facilities by militants or saboteurs seeking to steal crude oil are frequent in the creeks of the Niger Delta, one of the world’s largest wetlands and home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.
But direct confrontation with the military has been relatively rare in recent months.
President Umaru Yar’Adua said 10 days ago he was ready to grant amnesty to gunmen in the Niger Delta if they agreed to lay down their weapons but also said security chiefs would meet soon to work out “new rules of engagement” for the region.
Some within the security forces are thought to favour a military option, viewing the militants as plain criminals, while some politicians favour negotiation, seeing a degree of legitimacy in their grievances.
Abubakar warned “armed hoodlums” against any further attacks on its locations, saying the military had resolved to carry out a “decisive and appropriate” response and urging them to accept the “olive branch” being handed to them by the government.
MEND has rejected Yar’Adua’s offer of amnesty.
“The outcome of this incident can clearly give an insight into what a bigger battle will turn out to be like when the military launches its much talked about invasion,” it said.
The unrest in the delta has cut Nigeria’s oil output, forced foreign oil giants to remove all but essential expatriate staff from the region and eaten into the OPEC member’s foreign earnings, exacerbating the impact of the global slowdown.
Finance Minister Mansur Muhtar said last month oil production so far this year had been averaging around 1.6 million barrels per day, almost half the country’s installed capacity of 3 million bpd, partly due to the unrest.
Oil trade sources say Nigeria’s export levels will be significantly above that figure in April and May, averaging around 1.88 million bpd, but still far from the West African country’s full potential.
Shell said on Sunday it had shut down flow stations feeding into its Trans-Niger oil pipeline, also in the Niger Delta, as a precautionary measure after a fire at a manifold. It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.