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6 workers kidnapped from oil vessel off Nigeria coast

ABUJA, Nigeria — Gunmen attacked a vessel off the coast of Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, kidnapping six foreigners in an area that has become increasingly dangerous for oil companies and shippers, a police official said Wednesday.

Three Ukrainians, two Indians, and a Russian were taken from a vessel run by energy company Century Group 43 miles off Nigeria’s southern coast on Sunday, Bayelsa police spokesman Fidelis Odunna said. The kidnappers have demanded a $1.27 million ransom.

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Typically, foreign companies operating in Nigeria’s Niger Delta pay cash ransoms to free their employees after negotiating down kidnappers’ demands. Foreign hostages can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

Foreign companies have pumped oil out of the Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps the size of Portugal, for more than 50 years. Despite the billions of dollars flowing into Nigeria’s government, many in the delta remain desperately poor, living in polluted waters without access to proper medical care, education, or work.

The poor conditions sparked an uprising in 2006 by militants and opportunistic criminals who blew up oil pipelines and kidnapped foreign workers.

That violence ebbed in 2009 with an amnesty program sponsored by the government that offered former fighters monthly payments and job training. However, few in the delta have seen the promised benefits and sporadic kidnappings and attacks continue.

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