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Talks Under Way for Release of  Hostage Oil Workers off Nigeria's Coast - 2003-04-29


Oil company executives are negotiating for the freedom of about 100 European and American oil workers held captive by their striking Nigerian colleagues on several oil rigs off the Nigerian coast.

The oil workers have been trapped for two weeks on four rigs in deep waters south of Nigeria's Niger River Delta region.

They are unharmed and are being fed, but they are complaining of excessive heat and limited water supplies.

Their striking Nigerian colleagues took control of one of the platforms on April 16 and the three others on the 19, preventing the foreigners from leaving.

Spokesman Guy Cantwell of the U.S. firm operating the rigs, Houston-based Transocean, says the company is trying to resolve the matter through Nigeria's court system.

"We have 100 Nigerian employees who are striking on four rigs," he explained. "They are in the process of being served by court injunctions from the High Court in Lagos, Nigeria ordering them to leave the rigs. And we are working with the government authorities and everyone else to resolve this as quickly as possible, everyone else meaning the national union members who do not support the strike."

Nigerian labor union leaders say some of the workers are angry because of disagreements between the local union and Transocean.

Labor disputes and sabotage operations against multi-national oil companies are common in Nigeria. Hostage-taking is common, and usually the hostages are released unharmed after the kidnappers grievances are heard.

In March, violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta region briefly shut down nearly 40 percent of Nigeria's production. Some of the fighting was sparked by activists who say local people get too small a share of the oil wealth taken out of the Delta.

Despite the frequent problems, Nigeria is the world's sixth largest producer of oil.

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