Tuesday, April 14, 2009

West Africa Has Hostage Issues, Too

The Phillips family in Burlington, Vermont experienced a particularly sweet Easter Sunday with the good news of the rescue of Captain Phillips. Thanks to our U.S. Navy and the excellent marksmanship skills of its snipers, three Somali pirates are dead and one is in U.S. custody. The U.S. Captain is free from his hostage nightmare and safe, arranging his trip home.

There is much back and forth over the wisdom of armed or unarmed transport of goods through dangerous seas. Transportation companies contracted to deliver humanitarian aid and also regular commerce face the dilemma of paying exorbitant insurance rates and assuming liability for loss of cargo and life or simply training crews to battle pirates using methods without traditional weapons.

Let me give you another perspective on African piracy- the prespective of a wife married to an engineer on oil drilling rigs in international waters, as well as domestic. My husband has 30 years experience traveling the world and has three separate experiences with hostage situations in West Africa. Yes, West Africa deals with piracy of a bit differently.

During the 1990's, hostage taking in West Africa revolved mostly around the Nigerian crew taking control of offshore oil drilling rigs and demanding ransom in the form of higher severence pay as the drilling rig was out of the hole - meaning drilling was completed. My husband's experiences all take place in Nigeria.

The first incident occured much like the second incident. Both were while he was working on a drilling rig for American drilling companies. The oil rigs were American owned and the crews were mostly American, with the addition of the Nigerian workers. The procedure used by the pirates was to overtake the oil rig as the relief crew came onboard. The pirates were the actual Nigerian workers coming to work.

With a double crew of Nigerians to boost their numbers against the American crew, they would shut the oil rig down and demand higher severence pay with the threat of death to the Americans.

The first incident lasted 10 days for my husband and his crew. It was resolved by the American drilling company paying off the Nigerian workers. The second incident, this one about a year later, was resolved the same way.

Only one woman was onboard with the Americans on the first drilling rig and she was a technician doing some testing for a service company - Schlumberger. She was strong up until about the 6th day and then had a meltdown, which, who would fault her for that? Food was running low and there was no end in sight as far as the hostages knew. During the second incident, no women were onboard.

The third incident was different. About five years after the last hostage situation, my husband was able to put his experiences from the previous two into an offensive rather than defensive response. Again, keep in mind this is an American drilling rig and an American drilling company involved. Unarmed. Once onboard, anonymous notes written to drilling management were found for several days. The demands were for an increase in severance pay for the Nigerians at the end of the job, about $15,000 additional for each Nigerian crew member plus a 27" color television for each Nigerian crew member. My husband sat with the decision maker of the drilling company and explained the actions that he knew would be coming as the crew attempted to take over the drilling rig. He explained that first, as the relief crew came onboard it would coordinate with the crew leaving to outnumber the others, that they would be out of the hole and the well would be safe. Then they would make their demands and hold the oil rig by threatening death to the Americans until their ransom was paid.

This time, by going on the offense and being prepared for the take over of the drilling rig, it was avoided. Upon completion of the drilling, the rig manager took the helicopter to the oil rig that should have had the relief crew of Nigerian workers to the oil rig offshore. The rig manager is based onshore. The crew to be replaced remained on the drilling rig. The Nigerians were on the pipe deck of the drilling rig waiting to go up to the heliport, bags packed. The bags contained clubs they had smuggled onboard. The Americans lined up between the pipe deck and the helideck. They prevented the Nigerian workers from rushing the helicopter when they realized their relief crew was not onboard for reinforcement. Many service workers were unaware of what was going on. My husband and the EMT were off to the side observing the actions. The line of beefy, no nonsense Americans was impressive. The rig manager told the Nigerians that the relief crew wasn't coming out to the rig, that they were to get on the helicopter and go back in. When they got to shore he would talk to them about a higher severence pay. After much squabbling, the Nigerians relented and went back to the base onshore.

Now, fast forward to today. Last week my husband returned from Nigeria. Eight years have passed since his last trip there. This time he was based onshore as a member of management of a crew of Nigerian workers. He was there for two months. A major difference is that now the American companies drilling offshore are arming their oil rigs by using Nigerian Navy and military personnel. The Nigerian contracters are hiring the local people through relatively unarmed private Nigerian security companies.

Neither is a perfect solution in a dangerous imperfect world.

You will find much information at: http://www.oyibosonline.com/ concerning the atmosphere in Nigeria. You may be surprised to know there are hundreds of ex-pat hostages awaiting their release in Nigeria, onshore, as I write this. The hostage taking has moved onshore and regularly occurs as a means of conflict resolution between company management and workers.
Hostage taking and piracy solutions on a failed continent will not easily be resolved.

cross posted at http://www.motherofallconservatives.com/


Anonymous said...

This is clearly an amazing revelation; the first I've heard about it. I'll send a few people over to read it.


The Merry Widow said...

Hmph, of course this isn't reported...after all, it's all about making those corrupt, greedy Americans pay...for being successful!

Glad your husband has been kept safe in spite of the violence!

Rita Loca said...

I have been praying about this. Sadly, often these type pf things do not get the coverage they deserve.

Beverly said...

Thanks for sharing that, Karen.

srp said...

I wonder why we haven't known about this before... so glad your husband was safe and I am sure the company was glad he was so observant.

amarkonmywall said...

Thanks for sharing. I found this fascinating and scary- and not something I'd ever read about before. On a personal note- glad he has made it safely through the years and I admire your emotional stamina- both of you.