Lagos: A military raid freed 19 hostages held in Nigeria`s oil-rich southern delta on Wednesday night, a negotiator said, striking a stunning blow to a resurgent militancy in a region vital to US oil supplies.
The negotiator said the operation freed seven expatriate workers kidnapped on November 08 from an oil rig working an offshore field for London-based Afren PLC. Another seven Nigerian hostages came from an attack carried out on Sunday on an Exxon Mobil Corp rig operating nearby. The origin of the remaining hostages remained unclear on Wednesday night.
Others kidnapped included workers for construction company Julius Berger Nigeria PLC.
The negotiator spoke on condition of anonymity as the operation to free the hostages was still ongoing. An Afren spokesman declined to immediately comment on Wednesday night, and officials with Exxon Mobil did not immediately return a call for comment.
Those kidnapped from the Afren rig include two US workers, one Canadian, two French and two Indonesians. Among those hostages are James Robertson of Silver Creek, Mississippi, and Canadian Bob Croke of Newfoundland.
Robertson`s mother, Brenda Robertson, said that her family received word of her son`s release hours ago and have been celebrating ever since. She said her 47-year-old son was a father of four children and had previously warned his family about the possibility that he may become a hostage in Nigeria`s restive southern delta.
"He said, `Mama, don`t worry because all they want is money and they`ll take care of us,`" Brenda Robertson said. "I gave it over to God and he took care of it."
The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday night saying it welcomed the release of the two French hostages, calling the moment "a happy ending”.
New Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie "would like to warmly thank all those who contributed to this release, in particular the Nigerian authorities," the statement said
A contingent of militants who claimed they belonged to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also known by the acronym MEND, said they kidnapped the foreign workers. Militants began a campaign of pipeline bombings and high-profile kidnappings in the region 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. However, nebulous ties exist between militants, criminal gangs operating in the area and wealthy politicians who benefit from oil revenue in the region.