The Nigerian military has dismissed as false, reports that its personnel fired at a cargo boat conveying people and foodstuff from Port Okrika to Bonny, injuring a number of its occupants.
The military instead alleged its ground troops sighted an illegal oil bunkerers’ boat popularly called “Cotonou Boat” with its occupants and cargo guarded and escorted by armed men in two other boats.
Director, Defence Information, Benjamin Sawyerr, in a statement issued early on Monday, said the ground troops encountered resistance from the occupants, hence, a combat helicopter was despatched to provide air support mission.
His statement is, however, in sharp contrast with the narrative of some survivors of the incident who told newsmen they were in a local wooden cargo boat sailing with goods, mainly foodstuff and drinks when they were attacked.
Benjamin Sawyerr said: “The military has been drawn to a purported report by some print and online media stating that ‘the military fired at a cargo boat conveying people and food stuff from Port Harcourt to Bonny’. This report is false and calls to question the credibility of the online news medium.
“Contrary to the report, the Air Component of the Joint Task Force Operation DELTA SAFE (OPDS) recieved reports from ground troops who were on clearance operations but encountered resistance at the point of encounter. On receiving the report a combat helicopter was despatched to provide close air support mission along the Cawthorne Channel.
“The helicopter encountered an illegal oil bunkerers’ boat popularly called “Cotonou Boat”. The boat which was being escorted by 2 speedboats was suspected to be carrying illegally refined oil products in large drums along the Channel in the direction of OPDS patrol boats. On sighting the boat, warning shots were fired to dissuade the crew from hostile action. The crew fired back at the helicopter and the boat was engaged accordingly.
“The 2 speedboats detached from the convoy at high speed leaving the “Cotonou Boat” which was neutralised. The helicopter later went after the 2 speedboats but was unable to track it. The suspects are still at large and a manhunt has been sent out to apprehend them.
“The military remains a professional institution that operates in line with best practices through the application of rule of engagement and code of conduct. It is also positioned to protect the populace rather than victimising them. Efforts by anyone to protect criminality by disparaging the actions of the Military in preventing economic sabotage and other sundry crimes need to be condemned by all.”
The statement further enjoined the general public to disregard the report and continue providing accurate information to troops that will lead to the attainment of its operational mandate of safeguarding lives, properties as well as government assets in the South-South region.
THE WHISTLER, had reported that one of the occupants, Awal Rufai, who spoke to newsmen from a medical facility, said there were about five of them in the boat and the incident happened between 1:30 PM and 2:00 PM on Thursday along the Bonny River at Dutch Island in Okrika Local Government Area.