LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) – Six hostages escaped Thursday from a southern oil facility where they had been held along with dozens of others since armed men raided the Italian-run pumping station earlier this week, company officials said.

Forty-eight Nigerian employees of Agip, a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni SpA, were seized Monday when armed protesters overran and shut down Agip’s Tebidaba oil pumping station, shutting off around 50,000 barrels of crude production per day.

A Rome-based spokesman for the company said six of the hostages escaped Thursday and made their way to a neighboring state, where they were treated by Agip staff for minor injuries from running through the swamps.

The spokesman declined to be identified, citing company policies.

Hafiz Ringim, the police commissioner for Bayelsa State, where the pumping station is located, said earlier that kidnappers were demanding a ransom of $75,000.

“Negotiations are still going on. But these people are always asking for money,” Ringim said. “Most of these hostage takings are just about money.”

The Agip spokesman could not clarify the circumstances surrounding the employees’ escape and had no knowledge of a ransom request.

He said the closure was a security precaution and the company had no news on whether the facility had been damaged.

Kidnapping is increasingly common in oil-rich Nigeria, where most live in abject poverty despite tens of billions of dollars made by the government in oil revenues every year.

More than 60 foreigners have been taken hostage so far this year, along with many more Nigerians. The kidnappings usually end peacefully, although one Nigerian hostage was shot to death in August during a botched rescue attempt.

In a separate incident Tuesday, an American and a Briton working for a Norwegian oil services company were freed after spending five nights in captivity. Their captors had demanded a hospital and erosion protection for their community.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter and the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the United States.

AP-ES-11-09-06 1146EST

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