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Talks with Nigerian Oil Workers Stall - 2003-04-30

Negotiations to free 100 foreigners held captive for two weeks on oil rigs off Nigeria have broken down without progress.

The talks that took place Wednesday involved leaders from Nigeria's largest oil workers union and executives from U.S.-based Transocean, which operates the oil rigs.

The union and Nigerian workers who are staging the protest on the oil rigs want the U.S. company to reinstate five Nigerian union members who have been fired for alleged theft and corruption.

Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for Transocean, said his company is refusing those conditions, but is open to more discussions.

"The talks resulted in a better understanding that Transocean was not going to be changed on its position in any way but we are working with the national branch of the union and the government authorities and the embassies and our clients to resolve the issue so there is still activity going on," he said.

The company is also working with Nigerian authorities to enforce court injunctions issued Tuesday ordering the 100 striking Nigerian workers to leave the rigs in the Gulf of Guinea.

The disgruntled workers began their protest action April 16. They have been preventing helicopters from landing on the rigs by blocking landing areas with oil drums.

Violence and sabotage operations against multinational oil companies are frequent in Nigeria. Usually hostage-taking incidents in the area end peacefully.

But a labor union official representing some of the captives says they fear for their lives. Labor union leader Jake Molloy in Scotland says he received an e-mail from one hostage two days ago saying he feared for his life.

"They are there through no fault of their own and appear at least to be used as some kind of bargaining pieces in what is a dispute between Transocean and their [Nigerian] employees," he said. "The majority of these lads work for sub-party contractors, specialist contractor agencies and the like and really have been caught up in this."

Captives, most of them Europeans and Americans, say the striking workers are armed with firefighting axes. The strikers are also threatening to blow up the rigs if any attempt is made to remove them by force.