Another Mississippian among pirates’ hostages

Published 1:32 am Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Winona, Miss., man has been confirmed as having been taken hostage Nov. 8 when pirates attacked the oil rig where he was working off the coast of Nigeria.

Jeff James of Winona, Miss., was with James Robertson of Silver Creek, Miss., and others when gunmen attacked the oil rig operated by London-based Afren PLC and a supply ship about seven miles off the coast of Akwa Ibom, a state in the Southern coastal part of the country.

Another Mississippian, James “Butch” Johnson of Pass Christian, Miss., is in a London hospital after being shot in the same raid, but was not a hostage, officials have said.

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The newspaper reports that James’ wife, Betty James, would not comment.

Winona Mayor Jerry Flowers said he knows James’ family.

“It’s a horrible thing for the family,” he said Tuesday. “A guy goes to work and is abducted. I don’t know what to say about that.”

Others said a number of local residents work on offshore oil rigs.

“The pay is good. They have good insurance, and in places like Mississippi where jobs are so hard to get, anyone who can get a job on one of those oil rigs is doing good,” said Lady Howard of Winona, who also is a friend of James’ family.

Howard said her ex-husband worked offshore, and that oil rig workers were always told that the possibility of attacks on the rigs was a reality in the business.

There is still little information Transocean Ltd. officials can release on the hostages or their kidnappers, said spokesman Guy Cantwell. He said the company is working with Nigerian officials to resolve the situation.

Robertson’s family said they have been asked by the FBI not to talk to the media about the abductions.