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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oil Strikers Hold 97 Hostages

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nearly 100 foreign oil workers are being held hostage by striking Nigerian workers aboard offshore installations, company officials and union workers said Tuesday.

The strikers have been holding 97 foreign counterparts aboard four offshore drilling rigs owned by Houston, Texas-based Transocean since April 19. The action in a remote area off the West African nation's coastline became known only recently.

The rigs were drilling wells on behalf of oil multinationals Royal/Dutch Shell and TotalFina Elf.

The nationalities of more than 40 hostages were not immediately known, though Western diplomats said they included 21 Americans and 35 Britons.

Their exact condition was also unclear.

A highly placed source close to ongoing negotiations between company officials and the strikers said some of the foreign workers had sent e-mails from the facilities Monday to family members and diplomats complaining they had received death threats.

The strikers were protesting a decision by their employer, Transocean, to use boats instead of helicopters to ferry them to and from company rigs, said Joseph Akinlaja, secretary-general of Nigeria's largest oil workers' union.

The strikers were also apparently angry over company threats to institute disciplinary action against five union members, Akinlaja said.

Sabotage and hostage takings by community activists, labor groups and thugs demanding compensation for land use and alleged environmental damage are relatively common in the Niger Delta, where nearly all of Nigeria's oil is are drilled.

Hostages are rarely harmed.