…Negligence, poor enforcement to blame
Nigeria’s huge investment in the water transportation sector may go down the drain as rising incidence of boat mishaps on the nation’s inland waterways is threatening its untapped potential with many seeing it as an unsafe means of transportation.
In the last one year, no fewer than 15 boat mishaps have hit the nation, claiming scores of lives and hurting several businesses. Available statistics show this translates to an average of one accident per month.
Business experts have thus warned that the frequent boat capsizes, if not urgently addressed, will scare away users of the waterways thus putting more pressure on the roads, while robbing the government the much needed revenue from water transport.
Maritime enthusiasts have since advocated that the high level of safety enforcement in the aviation sector should be extended to the waterways to improve safety and avoid unnecessary loss of human lives.
They explained that the rising number of mishaps on the waterways is partly responsible for low patronage of commercial water transport in Nigeria, despite the nation’s vast coastline.
Investigations by Daily Sun show that about 90 per cent of the boat accidents occur at night when there is poor visibility, a development that is compounded by the absence of lights to indicate the location of wrecks on waterways.
It was against the backdrop of the sector’s infrastructural deficit on the navigable channels that the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), recently banned night travels on the waterways. But despite this ban, operators have regularly defied government policy and have relied on their over-rated knowledge of the water channels in daytime to move under the cover of darkness.
Other causes of boat accidents, according to our checks, include rickety boats, overloading, over speeding, drunk riding, uncontrolled activity of loggers, wrecks on the waters, water hyacinth (weeds), non-adherence to safety rules and poor enforcement of recommended rules and practices on the part of government.
Commuters who use ferries and boats in Lagos have lamented the poor enforcement capabilities of NIWA as they wonder how hundreds of sub-standard life jackets found their way into various boat stations thus endangering the lives of the users.
They alleged that sub-standard life jackets account for the high casualty rate as victims of boat accident/capsize sink and die rather than float before help could come to them.
A commuter, Mrs. Chinenye Obioha, told Daily Sun that the life jackets used at the Marina ferry jetty are mere dirty.
“I used it around my neck and I had rashes few days after because they don’t wash them even in this season of Ebola scare. Besides, the zippers are bad so you can’t zip it up. God forbid, if anything happens, you can’t float. You’ll sink and that explains why some people are found many days after such mishaps. They don’t float,” she lamented.
A maritime expert and publisher of the Journal of Freight and Energy, Innocent Aniemu, said NIWA needs to put more effort on enforcement of operational rules.
“NIWA should ensure shipwrecks are removed from the navigable channels. For now only LAWSA checks overloading at the jetties during daytime operation raising questions as to what NIWA is doing. Water hyacinth is another major challenge. What is NIWA doing? What about poor lighting system for night movement? These operators put torchlight on a stick and that serves as their light to help them avoid colliding with another boat. It does not show the wrecks. They use their knowledge of daylight operation to move at night and this is a huge risk. Enforcement of the ban on night movement is key,” he explained.
On what NIWA is doing to curb the incessant boat accidents, the spokesman of NIWA, Tayo Fadile, in a telephone interview with Daily Sun at the weekend said it was practically impossible for the authority to police the nation’s vast waterways, urging boat operators to simply adhere to the operational guidelines issued by NIWA.
“We’ve banned night movement on the waterways. But you still see operators moving in the dead of the night and 90 per cent of the accidents occur at nights. This means that if that rule is obeyed, we’ll operate safely within a 90 per cent safety envelope. The latest boat mishap from Baro to Lokoja happened around 4am. They left Baro around 1am. What were they looking for about that time? The approved time of movement is 6am-6pm. Which NIWA official will be in that remote location to save such people? We’ve given them safety guidelines. It’s just for these operators to comply. We’re enforcing the rules as much as we can within our limited resources,” he said.
On their part, boat operators have solicited the support of the Federal Government to enable them acquire better boats for more efficient operations.
President, Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria (ATBOWATON) and Managing Director, Gani-Tarzan Marine Enterprises Limited, Gani Balogun, made the appeal in an interview with journalists at a recent maritime event in Lagos organised by NIWA.
According to him, the body plans acquisition of 300 boats to boost water transport, stressing that government’s support was needed in that regard.
He also urged the government to build fuel stations around the waterways to make refuelling easier for operators, rather than carrying cans of fuel onboard while conveying passengers to various destinations.
“For instance, going to Badagry from Lagos Island now, an operator needs to have in his boat enough fuel to take him to Badagry and back and that entails having 20 litres of fuel in his boat, which is dangerous. But if there is a place you can buy fuel while making a trip, you won’t need to carry fuel in your boat. I also suggest that boat operators should have a visible colour for their boats preferably white so that anywhere they are in the dark they can be spotted easily,” he said.
Source : SunOnline