LAGOS, Nigeria - Armed members of a Nigerian militant group kidnapped eight oil workers, five of whom were Latvian, in an oil-rich region of the country, only to release the captives without ransom later that day.
About six gunmen seized five Latvians, two Russians and one Lithuanian during a July 26 raid on the Berger-Sisar, a liquefied petroleum gas tanker on the Bonny River in Nigeria. The men were released hours later and are reportedly unharmed.
"They have been released late this evening [July 26]. ... I doubt that any ransom was paid," Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, military spokesman in the eastern Niger Delta, told the Reuters news agency.
Military spokesmen told Xinhua that there was a brief shootout when the captives were taken.
The militants were reportedly members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, an organization created to block the Nigerian government's attempts to exploit the country's oil reserves.
The men were thought to have been working for Global Gas and Refining Ltd., a Nigerian subsidiary of U.S.-based Global Energy Inc. The company is headed by a prominent local businessman who may have helped secure the captives' unconditional release.
The kidnappings were the fourth such incident in less than two days. Militants managed to abduct 23 oil workers in a string of kidnappings. It is still unknown whether the same group was behind all of the attacks.
The Russian marine Internet bulletin Morskoj Bjulleten reported on July 27 that the leaders of the group are categorically opposed to kidnapping. Following the incident, the administration said that if it hears of any kidnappings, it will order the hostages immediately released.
The Bonny River is located in the Niger Delta, a network of mangrove creeks which until recently was home to Africa's biggest oil industry.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta's stated goals are to localize control of Nigeria's oil and to secure reparations from the national government for pollution caused by the oil industry.
Attacks by the movement and other similar groups have seriously hampered Nigerian oil production, which now stands at only one-quarter of its peak output.
Since 2006, more than 200 foreigners have been seized in the Niger Delta.