Oil Attacks in Nigeria Show New Militancy

An armed attack and kidnapping on a Nigerian oil facility owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. disrupted production Monday, providing the latest sign of how a fraying government amnesty deal with militants has posed fresh risks for energy companies operating in the oil-rich nation.

Gunmen in five skiffs with powerful motors attacked Exxon Mobil's Oso platform late Sunday, according to a security executive who works in the area and had seen an internal report on the incident. They boarded the platform and "conducted a room-to-room search. Crew and staff were beaten and robbed, the power supply was cut and communications were damaged," according to the security executive.

Eight Nigerian crew members were kidnapped from the platform, according to a senior industry executive familiar with the situation. It wasn't clear if there were other crew members who weren't kidnapped.

Exxon declined to say how the attack would affect output at one of Nigeria's biggest oil fields. It suspended Oso's production as a "precautionary measure," the company said in a statement. The field can produce the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day -- as much as 5% of the country's daily output.

Sunday's attacks occurred in the Niger Delta, an area in Nigeria's south that is dogged by poverty and instability -- and also accounts for most of the oil output that makes the country Africa's biggest oil producer and a major supplier to the U.S. For years in the region, militants claiming to seek a larger share of revenue for locals have sabotaged pipelines and kidnapped oil workers. But violence appeared to diminish after many accepted a presidential amnesty last year.

Recent events, however, show some gunmen on the attack again, in a turn of events observers say marks the unraveling of a program that provided housing and money to militant commanders who laid down arms and renounced violence. New attacks suggest a growing divide between ex-leaders, many of whom are seen to be reaping the rewards of the government's largess, and mid- to lower-level militants who have felt slighted, according to the military, militants and rights groups.

Sunday's incident was the fourth major attack on foreign installations in the Niger Delta in three months. The latest came last week, when an offshore rig owned by London-listed Afren PLC was boarded, seven crew members were kidnapped and one was shot in the leg.

In the past, militants often claimed to seek increased access to oil revenue and better living standards for people in the region, though military and watchdog groups say they were little more than loosely organized gangs. But there have been no such claims in the recent attacks.

Many commanders were paid with cash or incentives like free housing to accept last year's amnesty. Two ex-militants who publicly accepted the deal -- Ebikabowei Victor Ben, who goes by the name Boyloaf, and another leader known as General Africa -- were until recently residing in government housing in Bayelsa state, according to a housing document viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Neither Boyloaf nor General Africa responded to requests to comment.

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