LAGOS, Jan 14 (AFP): Four foreign oil workers began their fourth day as the captives of pirates in the creeks of the Niger Delta jungle Saturday, as Nigerian security forces attempted to negotiate their release.
The oilmen -- an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran -- were seized from their offshore supply vessel Wednesday by a 40-strong gang of gunmen and taken into the swamps south of the port city of Warri.
"The kidnappers have been located in the creeks, and now we're trying to talk to them and find out who they are and what their demands are," said Wilson Ekiyor, a spokesman for the Bayelsa State government.
"From the information we have the hostages are alive and unharmed," he added, speaking to AFP by telephone from the Bayelsa state capital Yenagoa.
Ekiyor said the gang did not appear to be drawn from local village communities, as had been the case in other recent kidnappings, which were quickly and peacefully resolved, but were "bandits come from outside the area".
The hostages were working for two oil service companies sub-contracted to the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell in the EA field off the coast of Bayelsa in the Gulf of Guinea 300 kilometres (185 miles) southeast of Lagos.
Also Wednesday, unidentified attackers blew up a Shell pipeline in the delta, forcing the company to cut production by around 106,000 barrels per day.
On Friday, a statement purporting to be from the kidnappers demanded the release of two leaders associated with the struggle of the Ijaw ethnic group to control resources in the delta, the heart of Africa's biggest oil industry. Nigerian navy spokesman Captain Obiara Medani said officials had contacted the group but refused to comment on their demands, saying this was a political issue and that the navy's priority was the hostages' safe release.
"There has been no new information overnight. We have people on the ground in Bayelsa State, we're waiting for them to report back," he said.
A spokeswoman for Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, Remi Oyo, said she had no knowledge of the demand, while Ekiyor said that no one had contacted Bayelsa authorities to make any demands.