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The toxic waste ship saga

Long before its arrival, the media were awash of stories of an impending berthing of a toxic waste-laden ship in the ports of Lagos .

Then on Monday, April 12, 2010 , MV Nashville belonging to Maersk Line docked at the Tin Can Island Ports with its deadly cargo of mainly disused electronics spare parts such as radio and television sets, expired lead batteries and other cargoes which, the authorities said, were radioactive materials capable of polluting and harming people and the environment.

A Vanguard Newspaper report described the dangers posed by the contents of the cargo as follows: “Toxic waste dumps, such as used electronic products, batteries, computers, telephone handsets and used tyres, spark off huge radioactive waves which permeate the skin surfaces and blood vessels leading to the development of cancer of various kinds, high blood pressure, hypertension and heart attacks, among others.”

Media reports had it that the ship had actually arrived in Nigeria on Friday, April 9, 2010 and discharged some of its cargoes at the Onne Port in Rivers State before proceeding to Lagos.

The ship had 20 crew members, including its captain and an agent of the Maersk Line. They were later detained by operatives of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). Zonal Coordinator, Zone “A” of the NCS, Mr. Saka Yinusa Alao, disclosed: “Information available to the Service indicated that a container UESU 463595/0 suspected to contain toxic waste was on board of this vessel. We got this information from our intelligence network because we share information with other Customs organisations in the world. They gave us this information direct from Rotterdam .”

First of all, let us commend the intelligence exchange, subsequent alertness and seamless coordination of efforts by the relevant authorities such as the Customs, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in tackling this menace and bringing it to heel.

We, however, are worried about the cargo of this ship that was discharged at the Eastern port of Onne. Since the authorities had a forehand knowledge of the ship’s evil contents and its itinerary in Nigerian waters, one wonders why it was not arrested at Onne

Why was it allowed to discharge its contents there? And what were the items that it discharged at Onne? It is important for the authorities to investigate whether the ship actually offloaded anything at Onne because if it did, the arrest and later, repatriation of the ship along with its cargo is only a half achievement.

For years, unscrupulous traders and importers turned Nigeria into the world worst dumping ground for used and sometimes unserviceable junk such as automobile products and spare-parts, electronics, used and substandard tyres, fake drugs and every variety of inferior and harmful items.

Some importers are known to actually arrange for dangerous chemicals, industrial wastes and harmful substances to be containerised and shipped to Nigeria for dumping, while the traders walk away with blood money. Unpatriotic security and regulatory agents who are part of the racket, allowed this to go on. This obviously accounts for the upsurge in cancers and other incurable ailments in our environment.

We call on the authorities to conduct a thorough probe of this incident and ensure that all those involved in bringing in the ship, and members of their ring are brought to book.

It is also important to tighten the borders and sea gateways into Nigeria and ensure that only products permitted by law are allowed in. Nigerians are among the worst users of long-discarded personal and household items scavenged from scrap heaps in other countries.

Part of the reorientation campaign should be focused on encouraging Nigerians to buy and use new products, especially those of good quality made in Nigeria. It is safer and cheaper in the long run. The encouragement of credit and hire purchase systems will help in no small measure.

It is high time that Nigerians were stopped from playing the scavenger to the rest of the world.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.