Nigerian Oil Worker Employed By Total Seized

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, (AP), Aug 01, 2007 (Dow Jones Commodities News)

A Nigerian oil worker was seized outside his church in the country's restive south, the latest in a wave of hostage takings to hit the volatile region, a colleague said Wednesday.

Gunmen seized the employee of Elf, a subsidiary of French firm Total SA (TOT), Tuesday evening in the oil city of Port Harcourt, said the colleague.

In Paris, Total spokeswoman Patricia Marie confirmed the Nigerian had been kidnapped. She said the worker lived in Port Harcourt and worked on an installation about one hour from the city. She had no other details but said Total was in touch with local authorities to resolve the crisis.

Kidnapping rings have seized more than 150 foreigners this year. Victims aren't usually hurt and are released after the payment of a cash ransom. The practice began when disaffected communities began to seize foreign oil workers to protest unemployment or pollution, but gradually more organized militant groups demanding more political rights for their impoverished region began to carry out attacks.

Police say most of the current spate of kidnappings are carried out by criminal gangs only interested in cash. Recently, they have also begun to seek rich Nigerians as targets.

The police weren't immediately available for comment on the latest kidnapping.

The attacks, and a string of bombings, have cut production in Africa's largest oil producer by around a quarter.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.