Gunmen free seven oil workers held in Nigeria

/ Source: The Associated Press

Gunmen have released seven kidnapped oil industry workers — five foreigners seized from a rig a week ago and two senior Nigerian managers taken captive last weekend, police and company officials said Wednesday.

Nigerian security forces helped negotiate the release of the five foreigners, Bayelsa state police spokesman Inyebom Inidong said. The two New Zealanders, one Australian, one Venezuelan and one Lebanese were subcontractors to oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

In neighboring Rivers state, two senior Shell employees also were released, company spokesman Precious Okolobo said. The two were among 15 Shell employees attacked when they went to repair a vandalized pipeline Saturday.

Oil workers are frequently kidnapped in the Niger Delta region by militants demanding more political rights and a greater share of oil revenues, or else by criminal gangs seeking ransom.

Companies say the attacks make it difficult to repair faulty pipelines, raising local anger over pollution and making it more likely that communities will target their employees.

More than 150 foreigners have been seized in the Delta so far this year, as well as many Nigerians. About a dozen remain in captivity.

Arrests are rare, even though the kidnappings and bombings have cut production in Africa's largest crude producer by around a quarter, helping to drive up oil prices worldwide.