Militants released six foreign oil workers, including a diabetic Texan celebrating his 69th birthday Wednesday, taken captive last month to press fighters’ demands for a greater share of oil revenues generated in this restive southern state.
But eight other hostages — including two Americans and a Briton — were kept by militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. A militant spokesman said all “low-value” hostages taken Feb. 18 had been freed.
Those released Wednesday included Macon Hawkins of Kosciusko, Texas; two Egyptians; two Thais; and a Filipino. They were taken to the offices of James Ibori, governor of the Delta State.
Militants handed Hawkins to surprised journalists visiting the fighters in the creeks and waterways of the oil-rich Niger Delta. The reporters took the calm but bedraggled worker to the Nigerian military.
Hawkins said he celebrated his 69th birthday in captivity with a warm soda and was looking forward to cleaning up.
Freed hostage has ‘no animosity’
“I had a warm Sprite this morning but I’m looking forward to a hot shower with some shampoo, some underarm deodorant and a razor,” he said, adding that he bore his captors no ill will.
“I have no animosity toward them at all,” he said. “I’ve seen their little villages. They’re dirt poor — poor as field mice.”
Hawkins and the other workers were seized Feb. 18 by militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. They were abducted from a barge owned by their employer, Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
The company confirmed Hawkins was released and said it continued to support efforts to free its remaining personnel.
Hawkins was shown to another group of reporters while still in captivity Friday and said then he was diabetic but receiving his medication in captivity.
Messages left with Hawkins’ wife and Willbros were not immediately returned.
Eight hostages remain
In an e-mail message sent after Hawkins’ release, the militant group’s spokesman said leaders were considering releasing some of the other eight remaining hostages — two Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.
The militants are demanding Nigeria’s federal government release two of their region’s leaders from prison and are seeking a greater share of proceeds from the oil pumped from their impoverished lands in southern Nigeria. The country is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil.
“The release of the hostages from Thailand, Philippines and Egypt is being considered and may be granted shortly,” the group’s spokesman said. “They belong to countries without interests in the oil industry.”
The militants took the nine hostages amid a series of assaults on the oil industry that cut production by about 20 percent. Four hostages taken earlier were released unharmed.