AMSTERDAM/LONDON Hoaxers targeted oil and gas major Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Monday, sending a bogus statement to news organisations about the company's operations in Nigeria.
The e-mail, complete with Shell logo and links to genuine websites including Shell's own, as well as to Shell's customary footnotes about forward-looking statements, said the company planned to halt deepwater drilling off the coast of Nigeria.
"We are investigating who is behind the hoax e-mail," said Shell spokesman Rainer Winzenried.
When contacted on the given phone number, hoaxers answered the phone by saying "Shell media relations" and proceeded to answer questions about drilling in Nigeria, saying Shell was facing pressure from groups such as Amnesty International.
Asked about the reasons for staging the hoax, the spokeswoman named on the bogus release, who said she was new to the company's media relations team, seemed surprised and said "I'll have to see what's going on."
Deepwater drilling is in focus because of the massive oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico from a well owned by BP Plc, one of Shell's rivals.
Shell is one of the largest oil and gas producers in Nigeria. It is due to hold its annual shareholders' meeting in the Hague on Tuesday, when it often faces questions from human rights and environmental groups about operations in the country.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians are aiming to sue Shell and Nigeria-based Shell Petroleum Development Co (SPDC) in a Dutch district court on charges related to several incidents of oil spills.
Groups trying to draw attention to environmental issues have staged similar hoaxes in the past year. Activists known as the Yes Men posed as representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in October to draw attention to the debate over climate change.
One of the most notorious hoaxes happened in 2004 when BBC World and BBC News 24 ran an interview with a bogus Dow Chemical official, later identified as one of the Yes Men, who said the company admitted responsibility for the Bhopal disaster 20 years before.
(Reporting by Alex Lawler and Ikuko Kurahone in London and Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam; Editing by Amanda Cooper and David Holmes)