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CNN NEWS: Oil company battles fires on Nigerian pipeline: Posted Wednesday 28 December 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 Posted: 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)

WARRI, Nigeria (Reuters) -- Fires have broken out along a pipeline in remote southern Nigeria, a state oil company official said Tuesday, a week after unknown gunmen attacked two other pipelines in the volatile Niger Delta.

The official said he did not know the cause of the blazes on the pipeline, which carries petroleum products from a refinery in Warri, the oil hub of Delta state, to northern Nigeria.

"Early this morning we put out one, but we are still battling the others," said J.A. Uwaseba, deputy area manager for operations of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Co., an arm of the Nigerian state oil company.

There was no immediate word on casualties, if any.

On December 20, a suspected dynamite attack on two crude oil pipelines operated by Royal Dutch Shell in neighboring Rivers state killed 11 people and cut output by 180,000 barrels per day, pushing up world oil prices.

The Niger Delta, where violence and sabotage against the oil industry are common, accounts for almost all of Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels per day of crude oil production.

Uwaseba said fires had broken out in several locations along the PPMC pipeline in Adeje community, seven miles (12 kilometers) from Warri. Police officers prevented a Reuters reporter from approaching the pipeline.

Villagers said the blazes were at remote locations deep in the mangrove forest.

The pipeline is a frequent target for thieves who tap into it to siphon off fuel. The practice, known as bunkering, often causes fires and slicks, but it is unusual for several fires to break out at once.

The delta is a vast region of mangrove creeks and swamps where most of the estimated 20 million inhabitants live in poverty despite the wealth generated there.

Their resentment breeds militancy, sabotage, kidnappings, oil theft and conflicts between communities, all of which draws sometimes brutal repression from the security forces.

A previously unheard-of group calling itself the Martyrs' Brigade has claimed responsibility for last week's attack in Rivers and threatened further violence against the oil industry.

Such claims are common in the delta and are not always followed up.

President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered troops to be on high alert after the Shell attack, and security forces have increased patrols in the delta in response.

However, the military commander in the region, Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, on Tuesday denied Nigerian media reports that 2,000 extra troops had been deployed there.

Shell initially suffered a 180,000 barrels per day outage -- representing around 7 percent of Nigerian production. By Tuesday, the company's production had mostly recovered, with the shortfall under 15,000 barrels per day.

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