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Nigerian oil site shut after attack

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Associated Press / June 20, 2008

LAGOS, Nigeria - Militants in speedboats raided an oil installation off Nigeria's southern coastline yesterday, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to slash production and exposing Africa's biggest oil industry as vulnerable even on the high seas.

The attack by fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, about 85 miles into the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, was the militant group's farthest-ever attack in the open ocean.

"The location for today's attack was deliberately chosen to remove any notion that offshore oil exploration is far from our reach," the group said. "The oil companies and their collaborators do not have any place to hide in conducting their nefarious activities."

The group is Nigeria's most effective militant gang. Its campaign of bombing pipelines and attacks on export facilities, launched in 2006, had already slashed Nigeria's daily oil output by about 20 percent, helping send global oil prices to all-time highs.

Yesterday's attack by gunmen riding in several open-hulled boats trimmed that 10 percent further. Shell confirmed the attack on a deep-water installation and said it had shut down about 200,000 barrels per day in production from the Bonga oil field.

The militants said they had aimed to destroy the installation's computer room but didn't at the last moment because it could have meant the needless death of the rig's staff members.

Oil industry officials said it wasn't clear whether the militants had even boarded the structure.

Nigeria's oil industry has eyed offshore development as a safer alternative to operations in the watery southern Niger Delta, where militants normally operate.

While militants sometimes venture out of the delta's creeks and swamps, no attack has been recorded as far out as yesterday's raid. The militants said they would target oil and gas tankers in the area next.

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