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Five Oil Rig Workers Kidnapped

Five crew members have been taken hostage from the High Island VII jackup drilling rig offshore Nigeria. An armed group of rebels raided the oil rig off the coast of Nigeria early Monday, October 8, kidnapping at least five foreigners and injuring two others, a spokesmen for two major oil companies said. Oil company Afren, owner of the rig, said that of the five hostages, two are French, two are American, and one is Canadian.

Sources told Reuters that gunmen attacked an oil rig off the coast of Nigeria’s southeastern state of Akwa Ibom late on Sunday. The attack took place in the shallow-water Okoro oilfield off the Obolo local government area of Akwa Ibom. There was no immediate confirmation from the security services.

One of the American hostages is a Mississippi oil rig worker, James Robertson of Silver Creek, who works for Transocean. A relative told WLOX News the family received word of the kidnapping overnight Monday.

Two crew members received wounds to the leg and have been evacuated by helicopter to an onshore medical clinic. These crew members are reported to be in stable condition, the company reports, but the fate of the rest of those involved, which include employees of  Transocean, is unknown.

The oil rig is owned by London-based Afren PLC and run by Transocean. The support vessel and drilling rig are now under the control of Afren and drilling operations on the rig have been temporarily suspended.

The kidnappers haven’t contacted Transocean, said Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for the Houston, Texas-based company.

“Clearly, the industry is on heightened alert,” Cantwell said.

In a news release, Afren said a “security breach” occurred soon after its “High Island VII jackup rig” arrived but before drilling had commenced.

“The situation has not been resolved. Afren is doing everything it can to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, and it is working with relevant agencies in the Nigerian government,” Afren public relations spokesman James Henderson told CNN.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley put the number of hostages at seven and confirmed that two are U.S. citizens.

“We are, of course, concerned about their safety and hope for their immediate release,” he said. “We are working with Nigerian authorities, you know, to pursue their prompt release, and there’s an investigation already under way.”

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, and Nigerian officials would not comment about the incident.

Several militant groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta have been battling the government for years over distribution of the country’s oil wealth. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the key militant group in the region, is known for its kidnappings of oil workers.

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