The Joint Military Task Force, code named operation Pulo Shield, has arrested 147 persons suspected to engage in illegal refining of petroleum products around Elechi Beach Waterfront, Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
Army Public Relations Officer, 2 Brigade Command, Capt Sanni Samuel,told newsmen that 420 drums of substances suspected to be illegally refined petroleum products were destroyed by men of the force who carried out the operation. “420 drums of illegally refined petroleum products were discovered and some refining equipment were discovered and in line with the mandate for the Brigade, those products were destroyed and set ablaze”, he said.
“However, before those exhibits were set ablaze, the security of the people there was considered”, he said.
Samuel debunked allegations that the taskforce had set fire on houses in Elechi Beach in the process of the operation, saying that the JTF only set ablaze the 420 drums of illegally refined petroleum products seized.
‘It was very close to the waterside so there was no way the fire would have engulfed the entire community. There is no truth in the report that the Elechi community was burnt down by the JTF”.
The truth is that the JTF went there on an operation and in the process discovered that some exhibits and 420 drums were stocked in one building close to the waterside and it was those drums that were destroyed”.
Similarly, The Tide reports that the Rivers State Government has said the JTF was not responsible for the fire incident which consumed more than seven residential houses in Elechi Beach on Monday.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari told journalists that the fire that affected the buildings in the area resulted from the activities of illegal bunkerers whose facilities were dislodged by the soldiers.
She said, on Monday, that the security agents destroyed the products after security reports revealed that some hoodlums, who migrated from Abonnema Wharf waterfront, had relocated to Elechi Beach.
She warned those engaged in illegal bunkering of petroleum products to quit the trade for their own good and the good of the society, adding that illicit oil bunkering was a high risk business that not only endangers the life of the bunkerer but those of other residents within the neighbourhood.
Semenitari said the Elechi Beach fire resulted from the activities of illegal bunkerers who hid combustible fuel under shanties. “The soldiers were there to clear the area of miscreants and criminals that have continued to terrorise innocent people.
Semenitari, however, expressed regrets that fire fighters could not easily access the area to quench the fire before it caused devastation.
On why the illegal bunkering activities have gone on for so long undetected by security operatives, the commissioner explained that it was for that reason that the Rivers State government decided to replan the water fronts and open them up for all classes of residents so that it will be easy to see what goes on in those areas.
Meanwhile, the Joint Military Task Force, code named ‘Operation Pulo Shield” says it has destroyed 87 illegal refineries in Bayelsa and Rivers State in the last 15 days.
The army Public Relations Officer, Capt Sanni Samuel disclosed this to newsmen in Port Harcourt on Monday.
He said several items including 126 surface tanks used for the storage of crude oil and petroleum products were seized.
Shedie Okpara & Desmond Osueke