Nigerian Militant Group Releases Hostage List

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria -- Nigeria's main militant group in the oil-rich southern delta has released a list of hostages it had taken in an attack on an offshore oil rig, with at least two names matching those of a U.S. and a Canadian worker believed to be held.

In an e-mail Friday, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta identified the seven men taken from a rig operated by London-based Afren PLC -- which includes two U.S. workers, one Canadian, two French and two Indonesians. The e-mail sent to journalists described the men as being "in good health and (they) will be in our custody for a while."

"Our fighters (caused) extensive damage on this facility and attempted to set it ablaze as they were instructed to do," the e-mail read.

The list of seven names included that of James Robertson, a U.S. worker on the rig for contractor Transocean Ltd. Local television stations in Mississippi earlier this week reported that Robertson, of Silver Creek, Mississippi, had been abducted during the attack Monday on the rig seven miles (11 kilometers) off Nigeria's coast.

The Canadian named is Bob Croke, a resident of Newfoundland, listed as working for a firm called PPI. He had earlier been identified as one of the hostages by a family member.

An Afren official reached Friday morning declined to comment. Guy Cantwell, a Houston-based spokesman for Transocean, said his company would "neither confirm or deny" the information contained in the communinque. Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor based in Zug, Switzerland, owned the rig doing the exploratory drilling.

The e-mail said the two Indonesians were seized off a nearby support ship operated by contractor Century Energy Services Ltd. One of the abducted Frenchmen worked for Sodexo, a France-based catering company, while the other was identified as working for Transocean as well.

Two workers suffered injuries in the attack Monday. The Sun Herald newspaper of Gulfport, Mississippi, reported Friday that Mississippi resident James "Butch" Johnson, 58, was one of the injured men. The newspaper said Johnson already had one surgery on his wounded leg and faces another operation next week.

Johnson said he believes the group that burst in was after money and didn't intend to shoot him.

"They came in to be intimidating, shooting into the floor," he said.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also known by the acronym MEND, began a campaign of pipeline bombings and high-profile kidnappings in 2006. Militants in the delta, a region of winding creeks and mangroves about the size of Portugal, want more oil money to come to an area still gripped by abject poverty and pollution after more than 50 years of oil production.

Several MEND commanders took part in a government-sponsored amnesty deal last year to lay down their weapons, but a faction remains active. Most recently, MEND claimed responsibility for an Oct. 1 car bomb attack that struck Nigeria's capital, Abuja, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens more.

The hostage list came from a new e-mail address previously not associated with the militant group. The group apparently has been changing e-mail addresses after Henry Okah, an alleged gunrunner long thought to be a MEND leader, was arrested in South Africa on terrorism charges stemming from the Oct. 1 attack. The group's alliances, with reputed ties between politicians and criminal gangs that run the delta, make it difficult to say who now remains in control of the MEND name, analysts and security experts have said.

In the e-mail Friday, MEND also said it had released three French workers and a Thai expatriate kidnapped Sept. 22 during an attack on an offshore rig operated by Addax Petroleum. The workers were released from captivity on Wednesday after MEND claimed to have negotiated with their original kidnappers to take control of them.

"Owing to their generally poor state of health, we were compelled to release them on humanitarian grounds," the statement read.