Shell oil company is evacuating non-essential employees from the Niger Delta area in Nigeria amid fears of clashes between government forces and armed bandits operating in the region.
London-based Shell spokesman Simon Buerk says recent skirmishes between military forces and armed militias in parts of the Niger Delta have led to the evacuation.
"There are basically reports about growing insecurity in the area and we have evacuated about 235 non-essential personnel from our facilities in the Soku and Ekulama areas which are in the eastern Niger Delta and currently there is no production impact," Mr. Buerk explained.
Mr. Buerk stressed that the two facilities being evacuated only make up a small portion of Shell's total presence in the Niger Delta, which accounts for just over ten percent of Shell's worldwide oil production.
"We're the most widely spread oil company in the Delta and that is basically where people go in and tap into pipelines and steal crude normally at night with barges," Mr. Buerk said. "And that is a general issue."
The Nigerian government has been trying to crack down on the pirating of oil by the local militias. Last week a pipeline explosion caused by fuel thieves outside of the commercial capital Lagos led to the deaths of more than four dozen people.
Nigerian army spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yusuf says he understands the concern by Shell in evacuating its employees.
"If let's say there is an oil [company] drilling something there, of course somebody will say okay the foreign oil whatever is operating there, they will say the employees should leave the place," he noted. "In Niger Delta these hooligans, we don't know what their objective is anyway and they are making life very unsafe for the people of Nigeria citizens and the foreign oil, I mean all the law abiding citizens they don't allow them to live peacefully."
He says the Nigerian army patrols the region around the clock to combat the armed gangs who steal the crude oil. In the past few weeks there have been reports of the gangs targeting police and soldiers patrolling the areas as well as an attack on civilians eating in a restaurant.