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American Among Four Oil Workers Kidnapped in Nigeria

An American is among four oil workers kidnapped off the coast of southern Nigeria. The incident is just the latest in a series of attacks against foreign oil interests in the country's oil-rich, but troubled, southeast.

The four foreign workers, all employees of a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, were taken from a support vessel anchored in shallow water just off Nigeria's volatile Niger Delta, a Shell spokesman said Thursday. Armed men boarded the boat Wednesday and took the workers to an unknown location.

The American consulate in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, confirmed that one of those abducted was an American citizen, but declined to give more information on his identity.

The three others are believed to be a Briton, a Honduran, and a Bulgarian.

Foreign oil operations in and around Nigeria's volatile Niger Delta are often the target of violent attacks. In December, an export pipeline operated by Shell was blown up in an attack blamed on local militias.

Kidnappings of foreign personnel are also common.

An analyst with the London-based research firm Global Insight, Olly Owen says these abductions rarely turn violent.

"Most kidnapping victims have been released," he said. "There are no cases where there are deliberate executions of kidnapping victims. It is nothing of that style that you might see, perhaps, in Iraq. So the intention is to kidnap them with the intention of releasing them."

Owen says there are generally two types of kidnappings. Armed separatist groups or disgruntled local populations sometimes abduct oil workers for political reasons.

But he says the early indications are that this was an economically motivated abduction.

"If it is a politically motivated incident, then people want to attract the maximum publicity to demands," he noted. "So, the fact that nothing like that has emerged as a result of this one perhaps suggests that it is more directly a kind of a criminal act for economic gain. It might even be that what they were after was the security boat itself and the kidnapping was simply an opportunistic thing."

Nigeria is one of the world's top-10 oil producing nations and is sub-Saharan Africa's only OPEC member state. But widespread poverty and environmental destruction in the Niger Delta have led to decades of unrest and occasional armed conflict.