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Attacks spur oil price rise

Nigerian militants threaten to fire on departing tankers

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Militants holding nine foreigners hostage launched attacks yesterday on a pipeline and a boat in Nigeria's swampy delta region, vowing to spread their campaign across the petroleum-rich south, where most of the African oil giant's crude is pumped.

Attacks in recent days by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta have now cut about 20 percent of daily oil output in Nigeria, an OPEC member and Africa's leading producer.

The latest violence didn't cause further production cuts but helped send oil prices higher. April Brent crude futures rose $1.59 to $61.48 a barrel on London's ICE Futures exchange. Trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange was closed for the Presidents' Day holiday. Oil prices had jumped more than $1 and settled near $60 a barrel Friday.

Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the United States' fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily.

There were no reported casualties in the attacks yesterday on a Shell-oil operated pipeline switching station and a boat the militants claimed housed Nigerian military personnel. ''Both were destroyed with explosives," the militant group said in an e-mail.

Shell confirmed the pipeline attack and said the houseboat was abandoned when the attackers blew it up. It was unclear who owned the boat. Military officials could not be reached for comment.

The West African nation is reeling from weekend attacks in which militants blasted oil and gas pipelines and sabotaged a key oil loading terminal belonging to Royal Dutch Shell PLC. That and an earlier attack forced the company to halt the flow of about 455,000 barrels a day -- about one-fifth of daily output.

The militants, who are pressing for release from prison of two of the region's leaders and greater control of oil revenues, have threatened to fire rockets at any ships transporting crude oil from Nigeria.

In one assault in the Forcados estuary, dozens of armed militants seized nine foreigners after storming a barge belonging to the Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for Shell.

The hostages include three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton, and one Filipino, militants and Willbros officials said. There was no word on their fate yesterday.

Militants are also demanding Shell pay local communities $1.5 billion to compensate for environmental pollution. Shell has rejected the demand.

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