Militants in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta have seized nine oil workers from a boat near a terminal facility. The incident followed recent warnings to oil companies in the area.
Elements of the ethnic Ijaw militia, known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. They have denounced helicopter air strikes against rebel targets by the Nigerian military, which the group claimed killed several people in remote villages over the past week.
Leading traditional rulers in the region have issued an appeal to the militants to release the hostages.
Frank Eke, the paramount ruler of Evo kingdom in the Niger Delta, has also appealed to oil companies operating in the area to ease the tension by being more sensitive to the needs of the local communities.
"The oil companies themselves, they know what role they're playing," said Frank Eke. "They know that they are exploiting oil on people's ecological habitat. They know what they have to do, they know what part they have to play. They know how to make the people amenable to their own cause. This is just human reaction. They should involve the people in what they are doing. Even though the people are not experts in their type of industry but they have to involve them."
The Nigerian government has declined to comment on the incident. Information Minister Frank Nweke told reporters Saturday that the government was still trying to confirm the attack.
President Olusegun Obasanjo had assured oil companies and the international community that the government will work towards preventing another hostage taking in the Niger Delta. He spoke at the end of January, at a ceremony to mark the release of four foreign oil workers held by militants.
The administration has attempted to improve security and enhance oil exploration and exploitation in the region, which is the base of Nigeria's oil industry.
The hostages - three Americans, two Egyptians, a Briton, two Thais and a Filipino were seized early Saturday.
Shell announced the suspension of exports from the 380,000-barrel-a-day Forcados terminal on Saturday, after militants bombed a tanker loading platform.
Militants are demanding more local control of the Niger Delta's vast oil wealth and the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders.