Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch energy group, has issued a tender for about 70 boats in an effort to strengthen security in Nigeria’s delta region.
According to a Shell tender document obtained by the Financial Times and dated January this year, the boats would be required “24 hours a day, 7 days a week . . . to support round-the-clock drilling and production operations of Shell”.
Shell has been the target of attacks in the Niger Delta this year.
The attacks have cut oil production by 455,000 barrels per day, basically halving output, and coincided with the kidnappings of several Shell oil contractors.
Production has not returned to normal in the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter since the last big attack in February.
Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s chief executive, said the company, Nigeria’s biggest foreign oil producer, was having to “rethink completely” how it handled security and community relations in Nigeria.
“I know the Niger Delta pretty well. I think you need patrol boats there. You have to rethink completely and pull up your socks. We now have experiences that we didn’t have before, so you have to do things differently,” he said, adding that this was “for the local management to figure out”.
The Nigerian security forces have been unable to protect installations and oil workers from attacks and abductions by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), a group that emerged late last year.
Security analysts say Nigeria’s military is hamstrung by a lack of discipline and poor equipment.
The tender document said the boats would include landing craft, airboats and hovercraft.
Security experts with knowledge of the tender said the boats would probably not be able to mount heavy weapons. But a member of Nigeria’s energy ministry who deals with security issues in the delta said they would have the capacity to fit armed Nigerian security on board. Oil multinationals already train and handle payments for special Nigerian police units seconded to protect their facilities.
Nigeria’s largest oil producer sources most of its Nigerian oil from the delta, an impoverished area of mangrove swamps peppered with thousands of settlements.
Shell is in talks with community leaders in the delta to make arrangements to re-enter areas that have been the focus of militant attacks this year, but no field operations have taken place.
Mend, which says it fights for the rights of the delta’s majority tribe, the Ijaw, says it will continue attacks.
Many Ijaw leaders say they have been cheated of their oil wealth by the government and multinationals.