Oil Workers Held Hostage Offshore Nigeria

The Nigerian blue-collar oil union, NUPENG, hopes that negotiations on Wednesday would open access to the four rigs offshore Nigeria where striking workers are holding almost 100 expatriate staff hostage. "People should be allowed to get on to the rigs and leave at will," said Joseph Akinlaja, Secretary General of Nigeria's blue-collar oil union NUPENG whose members launched the strike. I am optimistic that the meeting will achieve this aim," he said.

The talks, expected to start after 1000 GMT, would involve Transocean, and representatives of the strikers.

Akinlaja said he had no information on the condition of those trapped on the rigs, but added: "I know that in this kind of situation as the thing drags on, their anxiety will increase. That is why it is important to try and resolve the issue once and for all." Three of the rigs are on working for Shell Nigeria and one is working for TotalFinaElf.

Transocean spokesman Guy Cantwell said in a statement on Tuesday that 35 Britons and 17 U.S. citizens remained on the rigs after a number of third party workers and its own staff were allowed to leave by boat on Monday and Tuesday. The local branch of NUPENG (National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers) called the strike on April 16 to protest against disciplinary proceedings against some of its members. "Transocean is continuing efforts to resolve the labor stoppage but cannot estimate the possible length of the strike or its financial impact," Cantwell said.

A U.S. diplomat in Nigeria said on Tuesday there were no immediate fears for the safety of the trapped expatriates. "We look at this as a labor dispute. Our understanding is that expatriate workers are not the target," said the diplomat. "We have no reason to believe that they are in any danger." In London, a British Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are concerned that approximately 97 expatriates remain on board the oil rigs. These include 35 British nationals."

Neither the British spokesman nor the U.S. source described the expatriate workers as hostages. The British spokesman instead termed them "captives". He added that some Nigerians were also being held.