Suspected pirates in speedboats killed four policemen on Thursday after opening fire on a marine police checkpoint in the creeks of Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta, police said.

Militant activity in the delta has dropped sharply since the main factions signed an amnesty with the government in 2009 but criminal gangs, pirates and oil thieves still roam its swamps and creeks.

“There was an attack on our formation and … four men from the marine police team were killed,” Eguavoen Emokpae, police spokesman for Bayelsa, one of Nigeria’s three main oil-producing states, told Reuters.

“The reason for the attack is still sketchy.”

Security in the delta has improved since militant activity shut down nearly half of Nigeria’s oil output around the middle of the last decade. But the situation remains volatile and inflamed by organised crime and local political rivalries.

Pirates opened fire on a Dutch cargo ship a few miles from Nigeria’s Port Harcourt on Wednesday, kidnapping the ship’s master and an engineer and stealing cash.

A Nigerian militant group based in the oil-producing Niger Delta said it attacked an oil pipeline owned by Italian firm Eni at the start of last month.

The recent uptick in violence in Bayelsa has coincided with a spat between President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the state, and its powerful ex-governor Timipre Sylva, whom Nigerian authorities charged with money-laundering last week.

 

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