Many hostages on Saturday left four offshore oil rigs where striking workers had held 267 of them captive for weeks, signaling a peaceful end to the standoff.
Some essential staff would remain on the drilling platforms but “everyone else, they are departing in phases,” said Guy Cantwell, spokesman for rig owner Transocean Inc., which is based in Houston.
The evacuation “is continuing and we are going to do it as quickly as we can,” he said.
Many of the 170 Nigerian and 97 expatriate hostages -- including 17 Americans -- traveled Saturday with their 100 captors on boats and helicopters to port cities in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern Niger Delta.
Cantwell was uncertain if all of the expatriate workers had left the installations, 23 miles off Nigeria’s southern coast.
Nigerian oil workers took the hostages as part of a wildcat strike launched April 19 over grievances with Transocean’s management.
Company officials and strikers’ representatives negotiated the captives’ release Friday, and the hostage releases soon began.
The strikers have demanded the reinstatement of fired workers and that they be transported to the rigs by helicopters, not boats.
Their principal concerns will be addressed at a later date, according to a statement issued after Friday’s talks.
Sweaty and bedraggled, the released hostages told of threats, tedium and discomfort, although there were no immediate reports of injuries.
“It was tense at the start, but the last few days weren’t bad,” said Mark Richards, a Transocean employee from Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.
“This was not that bad,” said another oil worker, Luis Peraza of Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela.
Two other helicopters carrying hostages were seen in Warri, another port town. Two ferry boats containing more than 40 expatriates and Nigerians landed at the port of Onne, near Port Harcourt.
A Nigerian labor leader who helped negotiate the hostages’ freedom said he believed that all captives were expected to leave the rigs Saturday.
The rigs are drilling wells on behalf of multinationals Shell and TotalFinaElf. Captives were from several companies, including Transocean, Shell, Baker Hughes and TotalFinaElf.
Sabotage and hostage-takings by community activists, labor groups and thugs demanding compensation for land use and alleged environmental damage are common in the southern Niger Delta, where nearly all of Nigeria’s oil is drilled. Hostages rarely are harmed.