LAGOS, Nigeria — Militants said Sunday that the Nigerian military botched a rescue mission aimed at liberating two British hostages held captive in Nigeria's restive southern oil region.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in an e-mail message that the overnight mission caused the militants to separate the British victims and move them deeper into the region's vast network of creeks and mangrove swamps.
The militants said the hostages weren't in the village where the military launched its attack, which the militants said left some men, women and children dead.
In a separate incident, unidentified gunmen attacked vessels near a crude-oil loading installation late Saturday and one crew member was killed, a private security official said Sunday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to company prohibitions on dealings with the news media, said the gunmen had initially tried to board an oil tanker, but turned their sights on smaller service vessels after failing to board the tanker. Some crew members were reported kidnapped, but no details were immediately available, the official said.
A military spokesman couldn't be reached for comment.
The British hostages are among 27 oil workers, including five expatriates, kidnapped by militants when their vessel was hijacked Sept. 9. The other hostages were later released.
The militants are behind nearly three years of rising violence in the southern Niger Delta, where more than 200 hundred foreign workers have been kidnapped. The hostages are normally released after a ransom is paid.
The militants say their deeply impoverished areas have not benefited from five decades of oil production, and they are agitating for more federally held oil funds to be sent to the southern oil states.
The government acknowledges the grievances of many in the southern Niger Delta, but denounces the militants as criminals who use their struggle as a cover to make money by stealing crude oil and selling it overseas.
Corrupt government officials, however, also siphon off and sell oil. Many state-level politicians are linked to the militants and other armed gangs, whom they hire to rig elections.
Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer, but attacks on the industry's infrastructure have reduced production by almost a quarter. It is routinely ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.