Oil worker held hostage on rig

By David GreenA FAMILY are anxiously awaiting today an end to the terrifying ordeal which has seen their oil worker husband and father-of-two held hostage on a rig for more than a week.

By David Green

A FAMILY are anxiously awaiting today an end to the terrifying ordeal which has seen their oil worker husband and father-of-two held hostage on a rig for more than a week.

Martyn Etheridge, 41, from Lowestoft, is among 30 British oil workers trapped on the rig, which is about 70 miles off the Nigerian coast, as a result of strike action by their African colleagues following a disciplinary dispute.

The Britons have found themselves held as human bargaining tools, locked into cramped living quarters and dependent on the Nigerians for food and water.

In a new development to the dispute, it was disclosed last night that the Nigerian oil workers had placed a cargo container on the helicopter pad to prevent any incoming flights from landing there.

Mr Etheridge – who has two daughters, Stacey, 15, and Calli, 12 – has worked on oil rigs all over the world, including Singapore, Dubai, Mexico and Norway, and his wife Glynnis said he was well used to danger.

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She added although the current situation was calm, the mood of the Africans could quickly change and shots had been fired a few days ago.

"He phoned me on Saturday night and said the situation was getting heated on the rig and morale among the Britons was low," said Mrs Etheridge, of Gunton Church Lane.

"He said some of them had been discussing whether to jump into the sea and swim for it, but I told him not to get involved in anything like that – just to sit it out.

"Last year he was held hostage and hit over the head with a plank of wood. He knows there is danger and can cope with situations like that. It's not a particularly safe place to be, but I don't want to start panicking and worrying because it will not help.

"I am an optimist and I tend to cope with these things by getting on with my daily routine. But it is worse for the girls. Calli is very close to him and is used to e-mailing him twice a day, but that's all shut down at the moment."

Mrs Etheridge has been told by her husband of 17 years that he and his fellow Britons had been resupplied with food and water. Supplies would otherwise have run out during the weekend.

"He said the Africans had put a container on the rig's helicopter pad so there could be no landings. One man wants to get off the rig as early as possible because his wife is about to have a baby, but there is no end in sight to the dispute," she said.

Mrs Etheridge added her husband had told her he had to be careful what he said because the phone call was being monitored.

He is on board the 1983-built rig MG Hulme, operated by French-based oil giant Total Fina Elf. The strike action started as a protest by local members of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers against disciplinary proceedings.

Mr Etheridge had been due to come home on Friday after a six-week spell on the rig, but his wife had no idea now when he might be able to get away.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the British High Commission in Lagos was aware of the dispute and was monitoring the situation. "Disputes of this nature have happened before and usually end completely peacefully," he added.

The Nigerian off-shore oil industry has a volatile history. Less than two years ago 100 workers were taken hostage by militants on the Trident VIII rig.

In August 2001, five British men were among 99 people held hostage for five days on a Shell rig off the coast of Nigeria. In both cases the incidents ended peacefully.