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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
03ABUJA806 2003-04-30 20:07:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Abuja
Cable title:  

NIGERIA: NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE FOR RELEASE OF 17

Tags:   CASC ASEC EPET ENRG ECON PINS PGOV NI 
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1. (C) Transocean Sedco Forex Managing Director Ian Clark
told the Ambassador April 30 that the 273 hostages, including
96 expatriates of whom 17 are U.S. citizens, are in good
health--despite contrary press reports. However, food and
water stocks may be running low. President Obasanjo offered
to assist in peacefully resolving the situation. Press
reports indicate the Nigerian Navy may use force to re-take
the platforms, but GON defense officials disavow any
intention to act precipitously. End Summary.


Hostages in Good Condition


--------------------------




2. (U) Clark said Transocean Sedco Forex has been in frequent
contact with expatriate and Nigerian employees still captive
on the rigs. Discounting international news reports that the
hostages have been threatened with bodily harm, Clark said
they were under considerable emotional stress but in no
immediate physical danger. However, Clark said basic supplies
may run short if no settlement is reached soon. He reported
that hostages are allowed full access to their living
quarters and may move about the rigs to perform necessary
maintenance.


Local Negotiations Going Nowhere, Federal Government Gets
Involved


--------------------------



--------------------------




3. (U) Clark told the Ambassador that his company had been
actively attempting to win the release of the 273 hostages,
including 17 U.S. citizens and 96 other expatriates. Clark
said his company had worked closely with the National Union
of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) leadership, and
that NUPENG President Peter Akpatason had written the workers
asking them to release the hostages and resume negotiations
on land. The Rivers State Deputy Commissioner of Police--who
has jurisdiction over the rigs, made efforts to serve the
April 25 Federal High Court order that the disgruntled
workers abandon the rigs immediately, but his efforts were
rebuffed.




4. (C) Clark told the Ambassador that he had met earlier with
President Obasanjo. Obasanjo was sympathetic to his company's
situation and agreed to assist in resolving the situation
peacefully, Clark recounted. On Obasanjo's suggestion, Clark
met Nigeria Labour Congress President Adams Oshiomole, who
the Ambassador had previously spoken to about the situation.
Oshiomole agreed to help mediate a solution, offering to call
the workers on the rigs. The Ambassador also offered to
accompany Clark to meet the Minister of Labour. Clark agreed
with the Ambassador that the disgruntled workers might step
down under the weight of such high-level pressure from the
GON.




5. (C) Clark suggested that the threat of military or police
action might be necessary to break the logjam. He emphasized
that the threat by itself may be enough, and agreed with the
Ambassador that the actual use of force would be an unwelcome
development. Meanwhile, the international press has reported
that the Nigerian Navy is planning to take the rigs by force.
However, Nigerian Defense Intelligence Agency and Ministry of
Defense contacts have told DATT that there is no such move
afoot. Comment: It is highly unlikely that the military would
forcefully intervene unless requested and only if the
situation takes a dramatic turn for the worse. End Comment.


Why Takeover the Rigs? Two Versions of the Story


--------------------------

---


6. (U) NUPENG's Akpatason told Poloff April 30 that the local
NUPENG chapter had complained about the continuous use of an
unsafe boat to transport workers to and from the rigs. After
several reports that the boat routinely broke down on the
high seas, NUPENG insisted that Transocean Sedco Forex take
the workers' safety concerns seriously and consider
helecoptering workers to the rig. Akpatason said the company
refused to meet NUPENG's demands, leading union leaders to
contemplate some type of industrial action.




7. (U) Akpatson said that as NUPENG worked to resolve this
problem, the company dismissed five workers, local-chapter
NUPENG leaders, for undisclosed reasons. The five members,
who were aboard one of the rigs, then decided to call a
strike despite receiving an earlier communiqu from NUPENG
suspending such action, according to Akpatson. He said the
individuals who orchestrated the takeover used their position
within the local chapter of NUPENG to influence fellow
workers, not only to resolve the transportation issue, but to
keep their jobs.




8. (U) Clark offered a much simpler explanation for the
worker action. He said five workers had falsified travel
receipts. When challenged by company investigators, the
workers claimed that they were framed. Clark said a
subsequent police investigation concluded that the workers
were guilty. Clark said the workers were dismissed solely for
that reason. The five dismissed worker--who were onshore and
had not recently been aboard the rigs--then used their
influence within the union to foment a strike despite NUPENG
orders to the contrary.


Comment


--------------------------




9. (C) It is possible that the oil workers who took over the
rigs are using this dispute as a catalyst to extort money
from the company. Some oil companies have already set the
precedent of paying-off thugs who take hostages. From the
workers' perspective, there is no point to negotiating a
solution that is less beneficial than waiting for the payoff
that usually comes. Meanwhile, Clark has said that his
company is ready to take a stand and will not pay. He says
other oil company executives are supportive of his company's
decision and have said they will not pay if in similar
circumstances in the future.




10. (C) In the end, the workers may accept a solution that
minimizes actions taken by the Transocean Sedco Forex against
those involved, with the exception of those dismissed for
financial irregularities. However, Clark told the Ambassador
that no matter the settlement negotiated, all workers
involved in the takeover will be immediately dismissed.
Following through on this pledge would mark a major departure
in relations between the oil companies and their workers.
Clark also said that his company and others henceforth would
require that oil rig workers sign a code of conduct that
would provide a basis for the immediate dismissal for
employees involved in the kind of worker sympathy action that
is taking place now. Ambassador agreed that this was a good
idea and offered the good offices of the Embassy to work with
the GON, labor, and the oil companies to try to bring this
about. End Comment.
JETER