Blasts Hit Shell, Agip in Nigeria Port Harcourt

LONDON, Dec 18, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Coordinated blasts tore through two oil-company facilities in Nigeria's oil capital Port Harcourt, officials at Royal Dutch Shell and a source close to Agip said Monday, but oil production was unlikely to have been hit by the blasts.

The region's main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for the attacks after the group had warned earlier Monday that it would detonate three car bombs in the Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria's oil is produced.

A London-based spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell confirmed that an explosion "suspected to be a car bomb" had occurred Monday at one of its facilities run by its Nigeria unit but said no additional details were available.

"At this stage, we don't have any further information on damages or injuries," the Shell spokeswoman said.

Oil markets, focused on mild U.S. weather, shrugged off the blasts as the front-month January crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange traded down 87 cents a barrel at $62.62 at 1530 GMT.

A Nigeria-based source close to Eni's Nigeria subsidiary Agip said there was an explosion outside a fence at the company's office in Port Harcourt.

"There has been an explosion outside the fence of the Port Harcourt office," the source said, adding there were no further details on injuries or damage.

MEND, speaking via e-mail to the media, said it chose not to detonate the third bomb to prevent hurting and killing people directly in the area but said it would no longer provide warnings about future bomb attacks.

MEND has been behind many of the kidnappings of foreign oil workers and attacks on oil facilities the past year in the Niger Delta, where oil majors Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN), Eni SpA (E) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) operate.

The group warned Monday that it would soon abduct more foreign oil workers in its quest to seize control of oil resources in the delta. It also said a group of Agip workers kidnapped several days ago would be held "indefinitely" until its demands are met by the Nigerian government and international oil companies.

MEND said the two car bombs were detonated by cell phone and involved a cocktail of military and commercial explosives.

To date around a quarter of Nigeria's output of 2.3 million-2.4 million barrels a day of output is shut-in due to militant attacks on oil facilities.

MEND's self-described public representative known as Jomo Gbomo sent the e-mails warning about the blasts to the media. In the past year, Gbomo has sent out detailed reports to reporters after MEND launched attacks and abducted foreign oil workers.

The accounts, along with threats of future attacks that later occurred and Gbomo's knowledge of the movement of abducted oil workers, have supported Gbomo's claim to be close to MEND's leadership.

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