Nigerian Official Says Oil Workers' Kidnappers Contacted

YENAGOA, Nov 2, 2006 (AP)

Nigerian government emissaries have made contact with gunmen who seized a U.K. and an U.S. oil worker from an offshore oil-prospecting vessel in Nigeria's troubled southern oil region, and both are reportedly in good health, a local official said Friday.

The two oil workers were seized shortly after midnight Thursday from a boat belonging to Petroleum Geo-Services ASA (PGS), an oil field services company based in Oslo, Norway, that was engaged by oil giant Chevron Corp. (CVX) to survey the seabed for oil deposits.

The gunmen claim to have acted on behalf of the Ezetu community living near Chevron's Funiwa platform to back demands for jobs and the building of a local hospital, said Joshua Benamesia, a security aide to Bayelsa State Gov. Goodluck Jonathan.

"We've made contact, and I can confirm the hostages are well," Benamesia said. He gave no further details.

The abduction was the latest in a rash of attacks targeting the oil industry in Africa's leading producer nation since the beginning of 2006 that have cut a quarter of its oil exports. The kidnappings typically end with the hostages being released unharmed.

The militants say they are fighting on behalf of an impoverished population for a greater share of wealth from oil companies and the federal government, which apportions the revenues among Nigeria's 36 states.

Nigeria is the world's eight-biggest oil exporter and fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.