Friday, September 23, 2005

LAGOS, Nigeria — Chevron has shut down two oil flow stations, Shell has evacuated workers and the army was on high alert amid unrest in Nigeria’s oil-rich delta, the companies said yesterday.

A separatist militia threatened oil installations after the government arrested its leader and said it would charge him with treason, a capital offense. The group has given the government until today to release its leader.

Nigeria is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter and the fifth main supplier to the United States, with a daily total output of about 2.5 million barrels.

Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, military commander in the Niger Delta, said the army was “on high alert,” with stepped-up patrols on water and land and from the air. Hundreds of police reinforcements have been sent to the delta, but Gen. Zamani said the army had sufficient troops in the region for now.

Chevron Corp. spokeswoman Edith Azinge in Lagos said the company’s Robertkiri flow station, which usually produces 19,000 barrels per day, was shut late Thursday after the company received information it was under imminent threat.

With the shutdown of Robertkiri, Chevron now has shut off 27,000 barrels per day of oil due to unrest in the Niger Delta. On Thursday, militia fighters disarmed security forces guarding Chevron’s Idama oil platform, forcing the company to stop production of 8,000 barrels per day there.

A spokesman for Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which produces about half the oil pumped in Nigeria, said yesterday the company had evacuated staff from some platforms in the Niger Delta, but that production has not been affected. Many of Shell’s oil facilities can run without staff.

The militia said Wednesday it had overrun four Shell platforms, which Shell would neither confirm nor deny.

“We will unleash upon the government and its cohorts violence and mayhem never before reported in the history of the Nigerian state,” said a statement from the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force received by the Associated Press yesterday.

The separatist group is led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who was arrested Tuesday and appeared Thursday before a court in the capital, Abuja. A judge ordered him detained for two weeks before formal charges are brought.

Mr. Dokubo-Asari says his Ijaw ethnic group and the other people of the Niger Delta should break away from Nigeria and take control of the billions of dollars of oil flowing from their land.

Police said Mr. Dokubo-Asari was arrested because he had called for the breakup of Nigeria in an interview published in Nigeria’s Daily Independent newspaper. His lawyer, Uche Okwukwu, also was arrested after going to Abuja to secure Mr. Dokubo-Asari’s release, said an attorney now representing both of them, Ariku Donalds.

The unrest in Nigeria, along with growing demand and worries about spare capacity, has contributed to soaring global oil prices.

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