Nigerian Group MEND Raises Alarms with Tanker Blast
LONDON, Jan 11, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires)
A well-known Nigerian militant group said Friday it detonated a remote explosive device that caused a fire on a tanker and said it got help carrying out the attack from people in the energy industry and Nigeria's intelligence services.
The attack signals a sharp escalation in violence against the energy industry in Nigeria by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which has waged a two-year campaign in Nigeria's crude-producing region to rest more control of the area's oil resources.
MEND's claim, if true, that it got help from militants working for oil companies and from Nigeria's military and secret service would raise a huge problem for companies like Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and other firms in operating in Nigeria, the world's 11th biggest oil producer. MEND made its claims to the media in a statement.
A Lloyds Marine Intelligence Unit official told Dow Jones Newswires the vessel is a small chemical tanker owned by Arion Shipping, which confirmed the information with Lloyds. Arion is based in Piraeus, Greece.
The front-month February light, sweet, crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange traded down about 50 cents at $93.14 at 1430 GMT after rising early Friday on the Nigeria blast. The price fell on concerns about the health of the U.S. economy.
A militant group comprised of various factions and thugs, MEND recently warned of new attacks against the energy sector after peace talks with the government broke down following about a seven-month lull in assaults against energy infrastructure and employees.
"MEND salutes the patriotic agents and also use this opportunity to commend our friends inside the military and secret service for valuable information and resources," the group said in its statement.
The group said its "'Freelance Freedom Fighters' working inside the oil industry" detonated the device that caused the fire on the tanker in Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil capital in southern Nigeria.
MEND said it would continue its assaults against energy installations and the Nigerian military.
The tanker blast could will also likely make it more difficult for Shell and other companies to get oil production capacity shut from past MEND and other criminal attacks back into operation.Roughly 500,000 barrels a day of crude capacity - around one-sixth of Nigeria's total capacity - has been shut for almost two years, with around half of that operated by Shell.
"It does sound like MEND is back in business after a relatively quiet period, not good for the prospect of Nigeria bringing any of that shut-in oil back anytime soon," said Global Insight's Simon Wardell.
MEND's statement to the media came through an e-mail account to Jomo Gbomo, whose past accounts of MEND' actions have proven accurate. Gbomo's accounts of MEND's activities have strengthened Gbomo's claim to being part of the group's inner circle.
Gbomo is a pseudonym and the real identity of Gbomo is unknown. Henry Okah, who was arrested in Angola last year on suspicion of arms trafficking, is widely believed to have been Gbomo. It is unknown whether other persons are using the pseudonym to continue communicating with the press.LONDON, Jan 11, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires)