Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Four soldiers attached to the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Delta Safe (ODS), who are currently carrying out an operation codenamed ‘Crocodile Smile’, to rid the Niger Delta of criminalities, were yesterday feared dead in the creeks of Bayelsa State.
The loss of the security personnel, it was learnt, followed a boat mishap along the Brass Water Front in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa, which led to the troops drowning in the water which was said to have risen to a high level at the time.
All the weapons in possession of the troops at the time of the accident, including service rifles belonging to the soldiers, were also said to be missing.
It wasn’t clear why the boat capsized, but it was gathered that during the incident, which occurred at about 10a.m. yesterday, many other soldiers were able to swim to safety, though their weapons could not be recovered at the time of this report.
No military officer was willing to comment on the matter, but it was learnt that the troops, comprising mainly the newly deployed officers, were among the missing or feared dead.
The government recently commenced the mass deployment of military personnel in the creeks of the Niger Delta consequent upon the prolonged destruction of oil and gas infrastructure belonging to the federal government and multinationals.
The security operations against renewed militancy, sea piracy and search for those threatening to hoist the Niger Delta Republic flag on October 1, has continued despite indications that the militants had signified their intention to begin peace talks with the government.
Yesterday, an indigene of the Brass community identified as Etta, who said he witnessed the incident, noted that attempts by community youths and other soldiers to assist in a rescue operation failed. Many of the affected soldiers could not be found, he added.
“In recent times, we have been noticing increased movement of soldiers in our area. The boat that capsized was conveying a new batch of soldiers to the waterfront.
“I was going to dispose of refuse at the waterfront and I saw uniformed soldiers struggling to rescue their colleagues in a capsized boat.
“When the confusion subsided, four soldiers were missing with their rifles and other military stuff. Some others that were rescued had their rifles missing and struggling out of the water,” he said.
As at yesterday afternoon, military authorities were said to have sought the help of local divers and youths to assist in the search for the missing soldiers, but one of the youths confirmed that the high tide of the water was impeding the search and rescue operation.
The state Chairman of the maritime union, Lloyd Sese, who confirmed the incident to journalists said the union had received the report on the boat incident, but did not have details on the number of casualties yet.
An official of Brass Local Government Area who pleaded anonymity, also confirmed the development, saying, “but we thank God it was a natural incident.”
The Acting Coordinator of the Joint Media Centre, Lt. Commander Thomas Otuji, when contacted, said only the military headquarters in Abuja could make comments on such issues.