Australian contractors kidnapped in Nigeria

Two Australians and a New Zealander are among a group of five workers kidnapped in Nigeria after their vehicle was attacked by an alleged group of militants.

The attack happened near the city of Calabar, the Cross River state’s capital, in Nigeria’s south, at 7.00am local time on Wednesday.

The driver was shot dead.

Police said two of the workers managed to escape and the nationality of those still feared held were not known, the AAP reports.

The workers were from Macmahon, which was contracted to LafargeHolcim in the state, in a report by the West Australian.

A witness said the kidnappers took the workers to a waiting boat.

According to the ABC, the New Zealander is an Australian permanent resident.

Other reports suggest the attack involved two Australians, with police commissioner Jimoh Ozi-Obeh saying, “The police is aware of the matter. Five persons were kidnapped. They include two Australians, one South African and two Nigerians. The driver of the vehicle was shot dead.”

It is believed they were attacked by up to 30 militants, although it is unlikely to be by Boko Haram, which operates in the country’s north east.

Martin Cuddihy, ABC Africa correspondent said, “It is more likely to be a criminal gang that have taken these people to elicit some sort of ransom from the company”, adding that kidnapping was not uncommon in the area.

“This is a very wealthy part of Nigeria, but given the fact that the oil price has dropped considerably in the last couple of years, these criminal gangs have taken to abducting more foreign nationals in an effort to raise some money,” Cuddihy said.

No ransom demands have been received.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australian authorities are working to confirm reports that those kidnapped are Australian.

“The Australian Government is in close contact with the Nigerian Government, which is taking the matter extremely seriously,” she said.

LafargeHolcim spokeswoman Viola Graham-Douglas said, “MacMahon is working with the security agencies to resolve this situation,” according to the AAP.

Macmahon has an $US18 million ($24 million) a year contract with the United Cement Company of Nigeria (UniCem) for quarrying operations at the company’s cement manufacturing plant at Mfamosing, near Calabar. UniCem is a joint venture between Flour Mills of Nigeria and Franco-Swiss conglomerate LafargeHolcim.

Kidnapping for ransom has been a long standing problem in southern Nigeria, as criminal gangs target wealthy Nigerians and expat workers, particularly in the delta region where oil is produced.

Most kidnapped victims are usually released after a ransom is paid.