Total vessel attacked; crew kidnapped off Cameroon

The kidnapping of 10 crew members from the oil service vessel Bourbon Sagitta 15 miles off the Bassaki Peninsula between Cameroon and Nigeria was politically motivated, officials said.

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Nov. 3 -- The kidnapping of 10 crew members from the oil service vessel Bourbon Sagitta 15 miles off the Bassaki Peninsula between Cameroon and Nigeria, is politically motivated and will require delicate negotiations from France's Foreign Affairs ministry working closely with Cameroon's Foreign Relations ministry from a crisis cell set up in Paris.

The vessel, owned and operated by Bourbon Offshore Surf, was under contract to Total SA, which is watching events but is not directly involved in them.

Armed kidnappers in three speedboats boarded Bourbon Sagitta around midnight Oct. 31 in an attack that lasted less than 15 minutes. Nobody was hurt, indicated Eric Verriere, general manager of Bourbon Offshore Surf.

Among the ten crew kidnapped, six were French, two were Cameroonian, one was Tunisian, and one Senegalese, he said.

The craft later continued its crude oil loading operations in the Total-operated field aided by five officers sent to assist the five unharmed crewmembers remaining aboard. Bourbon is working closely with the foreign ministries of both France and Cameroon, but has handed over responsibility to the higher authorities, said Verriere.

Political motivation
Two groups from Cameroon Bakassi Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack, initially threatening to kill one hostage a day from Monday on, if their claims were not met within 3 days. They later said they would not kill them but would keep them until they obtained satisfaction. They said the hostages were being well treated but would be "retained for a very long time."

The Bakassi peninsula, believed to be an oil-rich territory, has been the subject of a decades-long border dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria. It was handed over to Nigeria in August following a ruling early this year by an International Court, a move strongly opposed by some Nigerian residents.

Militia groups similar to those operating in the Niger delta were formed. Talking to Reuters, Colonel Ebi Dari, a Niger Delta Defense and Security Council commander, said he personally had led the attack on the Bourbon Sagitta together with another group called the Bakassi Freedom Fighters. Prior to the attack, his group had already demanded that Cameroon and Nigeria renegotiate the terms of the ruling.

Dari's group also has demanded compensation for Nigerians who had already left Bakassi to settle in Nigeria. The Cameroonian militants also want to swap the hostages with specific colleagues seized by Cameroon during another attack, which might help the Foreign ministry's task.

France is trying to determine the authenticity of the groups, but a spokesman from France's Foreign Affairs ministry would not tell OGJ whether or not this had been achieved.

The policy of the ministry in all hostage cases is to say as little as possible about what it is actually doing to free the hostages in order to avoid jeopardizing their safety. Inasmuch as the claims of the kidnappers have nothing to do with France, the task most likely could be arduous.

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