Friday, November 12, 2010

Pirates shoot Pass Christian man off coast of Nigeria


James “Butch” Johnson , 58, of Pass Christian was shot in the leg early Monday when pirates stormed the oil rig where he was working off the coast of Nigeria and kidnapped five of his crew.

Johnson was airlifted out immediately and taken to one of the best hospitals in London. On Thursday, he was out of ICU and in a regular hospital room, but faces another surgery next week.

The bullet from a machine gun that one of the kidnappers wielded during the kidnapping splintered the bone in his leg, he said.

He works for Afren, an African independent oil and gas company, as a drilling supervisor. The company said the “security breach” happened on the High Island VII jackup rig about seven miles off the coast of Nigeria on Monday. Johnson and another man were shot and five taken hostage. The company also said a supply boat was attacked, but gave no details.

“Until we get those people back safely,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to say much.”
But he said the company has the best medical specialists working on this leg and they flew his wife Elizabeth to London from Pass Christian right away.
“They’re taking care of us both,” he said.

A tight network of friends on the Mississippi Coast has been waiting on word and watching as the events unfold. Johnson said it was his first time in 41 years of oil field work to be airlifted out in an emergency.

Because there is a hostage situation, the U.S. State Department has been in touch with him. The hostages include two from France, two from the U.S. (at least one from Mississippi) and one from Canada.

Johnson said he believes the group that burst in was after money and didn’t intend to shoot him.

“They came in to be intimidating, shooting into the floor,” he said.

The recoil forced the barrel of the gun up, “and he shot me.”

“If you shoot a machine gun straight down, it will come up,” he said. “You can’t hold it down.”

Johnson said wounding or killing potential hostages was counterproductive for the gunmen. He said hurting someone makes it harder to get money.

He said kidnappings are typical in Nigeria.

When asked Thursday, safe now in his hospital room in London, if he regrets working in a volatile area so far from home.

He said, “No.”

And he said if he heals, he would go back.

“Originally I’m from New Orleans,” he said. “I walk down Canal Street.”

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