Employees of Norwegian state oil company Statoil and two oil industry partners were the targets Wednesday of an attack on a gas production plant in Algeria, where Statoil is among the operators. Two Norwegian employees at the plant were wounded in the attack and the attackers were still holding hostages late Wednesday afternoon.
Statoil described the situation at the In Amenas gas production facility as “the most serious” the company had ever encountered, and reported that its emergency response organization had been mobilized. Norway’s Foreign Ministry was also aiding Statoil and following the drama closely.
Details remained sketchy for hours after the attack reportedly began around 4:30am. There were initial reports that one or two persons were killed, and international news bureaus including the BBC and AFP reported that “several” foreign workers at the plant had been kidnapped by terrorists who later claimed ties to Al-Qaeda. Among them were both British and Norwegian workers at the plant, reported AFP, while other reports included French and Japanese workers among those kidnapped.
“We are now working to get an overview of the situation,” reported Statoil in a press statement. “Our main focus is the safety of the employees at the facility.” Statoil said it could not confirm how many Norwegians may have been taken hostage.
An Islamist insurgent who took part in the attack told AFP that the terrorists were attached to Al-Qaeda and came from northern Mali, where French troops started fighting earlier this week against Islamic forces trying to take over Mali.
20 Statoil employees at the plant
The In Amenas plant is a so-called “wet gas field” operated through a joint venture between Sonatrach, BP of the UK and Statoil. Sonatrach, the Algerian state energy company, is billed as the largest oil and gas company in Algeria and Africa, active in exploration, production, pipeline transportation and the marketing of hydrocarbons and byproducts.
Statoil reported that Algerian authorities “were handling the situation locally,” while Norwegian and British authorities had also been informed. AFP reported that the Algerian army had launched an offensive to free the hostages. Statoil has nearly 20 employees at the In Amenas gas plant, more than 10 of whom are Norwegian.
The In Amenas gas plant is located in the Sahara Desert of southeastern Algeria, about 850 kilometers south of Hassi Messaoud, not far from the border to Libya . The joint venture between Sonatrach, BP and Statoil includes development of four primary gas fields plus gas gathering and processing facilities. Statoil acquired 50 percent of BP’s initial interest in the project in 2003 and production began in 2006.
Statoil officials have notified the families of employees at the plant, and set up an emergency telephone line for others needing contact: (+47) 800 83 003
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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