Two persons have been confirmed injured after a surveillance helicopter, allegedly belonging to the Nigeria Air Force, shot at a local boat travelling from Port Harcourt to Bonny Island in Rivers State on Thursday.
The local wooden boat, which had four occupants, including the operator, was loaded with foodstuffs.
The Manager of Dogger Boat Owners Association at the Bonny-Bile-Nembe Water Front in Port Harcourt, Isaiah Emmanuel, said, on Friday, that the four occupants of the boat were young men and the boat was not carrying any illegal product to warrant such an attack, which had left workers with the local boat association injured and hospitalised.
“Yesterday, after my boat left for Bonny, we got a call that an Air Force helicopter that was on patrol shot the boat and my men inside.
“When we went to confirm the incident, it was true. Two were in the hospital, the rest jumped into the water. That is the driver and some other workers. But nobody died.
“If you go to Bonny, you will see that the boat had lot of bullets on it.
“We didn’t carry any illegal product; it was just foodstuffs – egg, garri, beans – and perishable items that we convey to Bonny. So, I don’t know the reason behind the attack,” he stated.
While calling on the government and the military authorities to investigate the incident, Emmanuel said the boat operators were still contending with pirate attacks only for a NAF helicopter to allegedly opened fire on his men.
“We are facing a lot of challenges. Pirates are always attacking our boats, kidnapping people. So, we want the government to assist us,” he added.
Attempts to get authorities at the Nigeria Air Force Base in Port Harcourt to react to the incident were unsuccessful as their spokesman, Abdulrazak Ola, did not answer several calls put across to his mobile and had yet to reply to a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
However,, one of the boat owners, Wisdom Harleday, noted that occupants of the boat were trying to fix an engine fault at Dutch Island near Okrika when the helicopter flew down to almost water level and shot at them.
Harleday told journalists at the Bonny-Bille-Nembe jetty in Port Harcourt that the occupants then jumped into the river, but two of them were hit on the leg and hand.
When our correspondent visited the jetty on Friday, he observed that business activities had resumed fully.
One of the victims of the attack, Awwal Rufai, a marine technician specialised in fixing outboard engines, said the helicopter hovered around the area three times before it opened fire on the boat.
He said, “Normally, we leave Port Harcourt by 10 am. On our way coming back, getting to Dutch Island, our engine developed fault.
“We called for a new engine; a new engine was sent to us and we received it at 1 pm. Between 1:30pm and 2 pm, a chopper was seen around that area, it came around the first time, went back, came back again the second time and left.
“The third time it came around, it dropped a rope from the chopper and a personnel was seen coming down from the chopper into the boat and later went up, next thing they did was to open fire and started shooting at us.”
When asked whether there was any loss of life, he said, “It was just me and one other person that were affected. He got shot on the knee while I got shot on my middle finger.
“It was a market boat and we were carrying foodstuffs, such as garri, beans, rice, drinks, sugarcane.”