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Roller coaster oil prices could result in more attacks on Nigerian oil and gas helicopters, said John Pike, director of the well-informed intelligence Web site www.globalsecurity.org. "There have been such violent fluctuations in oil prices over the past year, that the various groups who smuggle oil out of Nigeria are finding themselves competing for a lot less money," Pike told Rotor & Wing. "As a result, they are becoming a lot more energetic in chasing oil money, and much more willing to deal harshly with their rivals."
On February 25, an Aero Contractor Sikorsky S-76, carrying oil industry employees, was fired upon during a contract flight from Ogbainbiri to Tebidaba, Nigeria.
According to Aero Contractor, one passenger was wounded in the attack. The S-76 managed to reach its destination. The employees onboard worked for a subsidiary of Agip, an Italian oil company.
According to the AFP, the Nigerian militant group MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) claimed responsibility for shooting at the S-76. MEND also said oil industry helicopters — which a MEND statement claimed are "used in moving soldiers to oppress civilian protesters in oil communities" — are now "legitimate targets in the region with the exception of medical evacuation and UN helicopters."
Despite MEND’s claims to be fighting on behalf of Nigerian residents for a fairer share of oil revenues, John Pike said what’s really at stake here is money. "There is more to the fight over Nigerian oil revenues than meets the eye," he said. "There is the official version, and then there’s all the corruption and oil smuggling going on in the background, which helps Nigeria bypass its OPEC production limits."
One thing is certain: Civilian helicopters are now becoming hostage to the Nigerian oil conflict. "If you created a list of the world’s six most dangerous countries to do business in, Nigeria would be on it," Pike noted. "Unfortunately, helicopter transport has now become part of the power struggle there, making life more dangerous than ever for pilots and passengers."