From Molly Kilete, Abuja
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has explained that a military helicopter opened fire on a wooden boat on the Bonny river in Rivers State because it was conveying stolen crude.
This is contrary to reports that the boat was conveying passengers.
Director Defence Information Major General Benjamin Sawyer, who made this known, said efforts by anyone to protect criminality by disparaging actions of the military in preventing economic sabotage and other sundry crimes need to be condemned by all.
Sawyer, in a statement, said trouble started when troops on clearance operations in the area came in contact with the boat and tried to stop it but met heavy resistance from the crew who opened fire.
He said the ground troop reported the incident to the authorities who immediately dispatched a combat helicopter to provide close air support mission along the Cawthorne Channel.
Sawyers statement read: “The attention of 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) received 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 two 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 two speedboats detached from the convoy at high speed leaving the “Cotonou Boat” which was neutralised. The helicopter later went after the two speedboats but was unable to track it. The suspects are still at large and a manhunt has been sent out to apprehend them.”