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Oil Thieves Destroy Shell Pipeline in Southern Nigeria

A pipeline operated by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, which sends crude oil to the Escravos oil export terminal in southern Nigeria, has been destroyed. Explosions on the pipeline are believed to be due to sabotage.

Royal Dutch Shell says explosions occurred on the Escravos pipeline in Delta state over the weekend. The incident was detected by a surveillance team and investigations are ongoing.

Sabotage against oil pipelines is very common in this part of Nigeria, as local youths often destroy pipelines to steal crude. The military authorities in Western Delta have taken a tougher line in fighting oil theft, or bunkering - a multimillion-dollar trade.

Troops have seized several vessels filled with stolen crude in recent months prompting oil gangs to target the key pipeline in retaliation.

A journalist in the area, Emma Ameze, says the gangs have become very powerful despite regular crackdowns by the military.

"The government has been trying to tame them but they are powerful. They don't want to stop doing the business. They are not stopping. The way they are doing it means they are strong. Though the JTF [Joint Military Task Force] is on their heels ... they have not slowed down," Ameze said.

Attacks by militants and thieves on oil facilities in the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil-and-gas industry, have shut down around a fifth of Nigerian output since early 2006.

Officials say millions of dollars are lost daily in crude stolen in the Niger Delta. Angry locals, who are behind the stealing of crude, say they have no choice given their poverty and neglect by the government.