updated 10/3/2006 11:16:01 AM ET 2006-10-03T15:16:01

Dozens of militants abducted 25 Nigerian oil workers in an attack on their convoy in the restive southern delta region, a spokesman for Royal Dutch Shell said Tuesday.

Army spokesman Maj. Sagir Musa said earlier that at least five people died and nine were missing after about 70 militants in black shirts and red bandanas sank two military patrol boats escorting the oil workers in the delta Monday.

The company spokesman, Bisi Ojediran, said one civilian working for the military died in the attack, but no oil workers were killed or injured. The hostage takers hadn’t made any ransom demands for the kidnapped subcontractors by early Tuesday, he said.

Troops often escort diesel, supplies and employees in the volatile delta region, where militant attacks in the past year have pared away nearly a quarter of Nigeria’s usual output of 2.6 million barrels a day. Nigeria is Africa’s largest petroleum producer and the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States.

Responsible parties unclear
A coalition of militant groups in the Niger Delta region claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. The coalition demanded the release of imprisoned militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and said the killings were in revenge for attacks by soldiers on local communities.

However, an e-mail from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, one of the groups the coalition claims to represent, denied responsibility for the attack.

Despite the Niger River delta’s massive energy resources, most of its residents have no access to clean water or electricity and live in extreme poverty.

Some in the region say kidnappings and attacks that grab international attention are some of the only means of protest available to them. Others steal diesel or crude oil to sell on the black market in the name of resource control.

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