WARRI, Nigeria, Feb 21: The governor of Nigeria's Delta state said today that more attacks on the world's eighth largest oil exporter were unlikely and that he was in contact with the nine hostages kidnapped by militants.
Governor James Ibori said the hostages were fine and called on Royal Dutch Shell to resume operations that were shut down following attacks from militants who have sabotaged oil installations and kidnapped workers.
The hostages are three Americans, a Briton, two Egyptians, two Thais and a Filipino.
''I have a means of checking on the hostages. I am in contact with them, they are well,'' Ibori told a press conference in Warri, adding that medication has been sent to one of the Americans, who suffers from diabetes.
''Our commitment is to release the hostages very soon.'' Ibori said this kidnapping was quite different from the last one in January, when militants held four foreign oil workers for 19 days, because it was done out of anger at the Nigerian military for attacking Delta communities.
The same group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and has made the same demands.
These are the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, and more local control over the delta's vast oil resources.
The military said helicopter gunships fired rockets at oil thieves in Delta state on several days last week, but Ijaw leaders say communities were bombed and civilians killed.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta had cited the bombardment as its main motivation for attacks on Saturday, in which they bombed a major Shell tanker loading platform, three pipelines and kidnapped the workers from a barge operated by US-based Willbros.
They have also threatened more attacks across the whole region.
''I am hopeful they have seen reason with us on the need to release the hostages because we have assured them enough that there will be no further attacks,'' Ibori said.
Ibori said he had instructed Shell to reopen Warri's main airport, Osubi, which was closed on Sunday after militant threats to fire on aircraft using it.
Shell has withdrawn staff from oilfields feeding its Forcados oil loading platform, and another major oilfield in the region, curbing exports of 455,000 barrels a day.
''If Shell has withdrawn all its staff from the swamp it's just the apprehension that there could be more hostages or damage to their installations, but I have assured them to resume operations because no attacks will be made on them,'' Ibori said.
''I am reasonably hopeful that Shell will do that and the kidnappers will listen to our appeal.''