*How sand dredgers, greedy boat operators aid fatal boat mishaps

By Dotun Ibiwoye

It was an unlikely tale of boat-related tragedies on the waterways of Nigeria in the past months. The immediate past year was particularly eventful with several such tragedies recorded. The tragic tale of mishaps continued in 2016 as last month, a boat conveying 17 passengers capsized, killing seven persons in Badore area of Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State.

The ill-fated boat took off from Ijede shortly after the monthly sanitation exercise and capsized around 10.20am barely few minutes after it sailed and ran into a heap of sand left by sand scoopers.

Passengers on board

This incident occurred nine days after a fatal boat collision at Ibeshe in the Ikorodu area of Lagos state, which claimed the life of one passenger, while several others sustained injuries.

An eye witness, Mr Akeem Balogun, who spoke to Vanguard Features, VF,  on the Badore incident, said he was at the jetty when the boat took off with 17 passengers on board.

Asked the likely cause of the incident, he said: ‘’All we gathered was that the boat operator heard a strange sound underneath the boat and the next thing the boat capsized. The fishermen around immediately ran to their rescue”.

Also not long after, emergency officials in Jigawa State confirmed that 13 young girls perished when their boat capsized in River Gilbi between Tsuburi Darai and Gilma villages in Jahun Local Government Area of the state.  The death toll was likely higher as emergency officials also informed that 15 of the passengers on the boat were declared missing.

The executive secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Yusuf Sani Babura, told reporters in the state capital, Dutse, that the rescue team initially recovered seven bodies, with additional five bodies recovered the next  day, making a total of 13 dead.

Babura disclosed that the young girls, aged between nine and 12 years, boarded the boats at Tsuburi Darai village and were on their way to Gilma village to attend a wedding.

In several littoral states in Nigeria,  most roads in the cities are unmotorable and congested because of potholes and heavy traffic. The alternative is for commuters to patronise boats. But the increasing cases of fatal boat mishaps have continued to defeat the inherent advantages.

Activities of sand dredgers

NEMA reacts: Cospas-Sarsat, corps members to the rescue: Speaking on the Badore incident, the Publicity Secretary of National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, South West zone, Ibrahim Farinloye, said: “The mishap was caused by the activities of sand dredgers. They filled a section of the water with sand without the knowledge of the boat operators. The affected boat ran into the accumulated sand, tumbled and fell off.”
Farinloye also told  VF  that NEMA works as a coordinating agency in collaboration with other agencies of government like the marine police, National Inland

Waterways Authority, Lagos State Waterways Authority, other stakeholders and the communities to prevent the occurrence of boat mishaps.
“In other to get to the grass roots, we train National Youth Service Corps members so that they will pass the knowledge to members of the communities at their primary places of assignment, “ he informed.

He said the corps members are key to the training because: “They identify the risk in the society and send a feedback to us. There are tripartite ways of attending to the community. The corps members posted to the riverine communities are given more of the training. When people are informed, they are empowered”.
He also said that as guide and guard against boat mishap and other disasters, the agency  recommends that the people should embrace what he identified as Cospas-Sarsat.

Tremendous resources

The Cospas-Sarsat system, according to him, provides a tremendous resource for protecting the lives of aviators and mariners. With a 406 MHz beacon, a distress message can be sent to the appropriate authorities from anywhere on Earth 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It is a satellite-based  search and rescue,  SAR,  distress  alert detection and information distribution system established by  Canada,  France, the  United States and the former  Soviet Union  in 1979.

The system detects and locates emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and back country hikers in distress. Once people are in distress, the device which is worn on the shoulder, will be switched on and he/she will be located at the disaster spot.

According to Farinloye: “We are trying  to enable individuals have it as security measure. We have it at our headquarters at NEMA and when the signal is switched on, we will locate the individual”.

When asked about the cost of acquiring the device, the NEMA spokesman said: “The Cospas-Sarsat system has been in NEMA since 2005. Nothing is as costly as one’s life. So when anyone appreciates the value of his life and security, price and monetary expenses must not be a limitation.

Many organisations and individuals have acquired this device. After acquiring it, the next stage is to have it registered with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency,  NAMA; the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA and NEMA.

“All of us will have access to the documentation and device so that we will be able to know where the individual needs help. A typical example is when you see the United States military carrying a bag with an antenna on it and he is able to communicate with the outside world when held up in enemy territory,” he said.

On the issue of sand dredging as a causative factor in boat mishap, Farinloye averred that it should be noted that it is a legal when it is mechanised  and authorised. But mining and scooping of sand remain an illegal and risky way of taking the sand out,and therefore a major cause of boat mishap.

“When the legal owners of a particular place in the coastal areas install a beacon, they will be able to detect people who are encroaching their areas and involved in illegal sand mining.”

National Inland Waterways Authority: Giving his thought on the subject of frequent boat mishaps on the waterways, Tayo Fadile, General Manager, Corporate Affairs, National Inland Waterways Authoritys, NIWA, in a chat with VF, affirmed that his agency has consistently carried out sensitisation campaigns on the danger of over-loading of boats and the need to embrace safety consciousness.

He also stressed that his organisation cannot be everywhere at all times and cannot stop boat owners from doing their businesses.

According to him: “Safety consciousness is what we have been advocating. We spent several months last year in our sensitisation campaign  on safety. Everyone knows the basis of safety. As an adult we all know what is dangerous.

Boat transportation

“In reality we cannot stop people from doing their businesses as boat and ferry owners. We cannot be everywhere at all times. We have been enlightening people about safety. Overloading is common in every boat transportation.

“It is an unfortunate incident and we commiserate with the families of the bereaved. Our campaign is zero tolerance to death on Nigerian waterways”.
Discoveries: FVF investigations revealed that several companies operating water transport business usually sacrifice safety precaution for profit. Daily, they all bring their boats to the jetties in the hope of making as many trips as possible before the rush hours gradually draw to an end.

The traffic peak period is between 7am and 10am when several people throng the Lagos Island from the Lagos Mainland for their daily businesses.

Then by 11am, the number of people waiting to be ferried begins to decline until noon. The entire process becomes reversed in the evening when residents start to return home again.

VF’s checks revealed that an average ferry makes about four trips while every passenger is equipped with a life jacket and is charged N600 per trip.
Thus, a ferry with a capacity for 20 people makes about N12,000 per trip. This means that if the same ferry makes four trips in a day, it would have fetched its operator about N48,000.

Each trip, it was gathered, lasts for about 30 minutes, meaning that an individual making use of a ferry would have long been on the Island when another going in the same direction using the conventional road transport system would still be struggling to make his way through gridlocks.
On the other hand, some of the accident survivors said the loading of 40 people into a boat designed for 22 passengers caused the accident leading to the loss of eight lives.

It was also discovered that over- speeding, while ignoring pleas from the passengers to slow down, is a major cause of boat mishap in Nigeria.

The total disregard for the manufacturer’s instructions for the maximum weight on the ferry or vessels also violates  the safety of the passengers they carry.

Having more passengers on board over the boat’s capacity could lead to injuries or deaths when an accident happens. Most often there are no provisions for emergency exits in the ferries.

Some boat owners venture into the business without knowing the rules and regulations guiding its operation.

The Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria, sometime ago, identified 30 tragedy-prone spots on Lagos waterways. The  President of the association, Mr. Ganiyu Balogun, had said wrecks and logs on waterways constituted the major source of hazards in recent times.

He noted that about 30 spots have been demarcated  with danger floating signs and implored the government to clear the wrecks to forestall mishaps and to keep the waterways safe without delay.

He said the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, told the association to help identify the areas and promised to work on them, adding that safety of lives should take precedence over the quest for taxes.
Recurring boat mishaps in Lagos

THE Lagos State Waterways Authority Act enacted in 2008, empowers the Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA, with the responsibility coordinating and regulating of water transportation in Lagos State and this includes the granting of ferry licenses.

So the question is why are operators allowed to run death traps on Lagos waters?

The authorities saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the activities needs to do more. LASWA ought to do a better job. It is the duty of every government to protect the lives of her citizens. A situation where boat operators are either allowed to operate without regulations or where existing regulations are not enforced is absolutely deplorable.

Boat mishaps

A week after the January 30 boat mishap in Lagos, members of the Lagos State House of Assembly summoned the state Commissioner for Transportation, and the general manager of LSWA to appear before it to give clarification on the incessant incidence of boat mishaps across the state.

The Speaker of the State Assembly gave the ruling after the submissions of members in response to a motion moved by Fatai Mojeed, representing Ibeju Lekki Constituency I, who is also the chairman House Committee on Transportation. Mojeed had during Matter of Urgent Public Importance referred members to the re-occuring boat mishaps across the state, leading to loss of lives. He noted that it was becoming worrisome and hence it needed to be addressed. He  regretted a situation where in the last months, the state recorded three incidents happening in Ijede, Ikorodu and Badagry areas of the state.

In his submission, Rotimi Olowo of Somolu Constituency II, condemned deaths on the waterways. At the time of filing this report the two telephone numbers placed on the website of LASWA was switched off for more than one week and in the space created for  messages, the messages  sent to their website remained unanswered.

Enforcement of safety regulations: On World Safety Day Celebration, July 2015, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State has received 2,400 life jackets donation from Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited to be distributed to riverine areas in order to curb incessant boat mishap in the state’s waterways.

Safety regulations

The Governor re-affirmed the determination of his administration to strengthen the enforcement of safety regulations and laws in order to reduce to the barest minimum incidents of loss of lives and property arising from negligence and non-compliance with the safety measures put in place by the state government.

He noted that in recent times, incidents of building collapse, fire disasters, boat mishaps and other avoidable accidents were becoming rampart across the country because of people’s disregard for safety regulations and guidelines in their daily activities. Although the gesture was good, there are hundreds of thousands of life jackets needed for the people in Lagos is not enough for the people. Not even a fraction of what is needed.

The Lagos State Government is also quick to point out that it is making the water ways safe for passengers and as a way to decongest traffic on the roads. However, the increasing incidence of boat accidents in the state since the beginning of 2014 has created fear in the minds of passengers, who are mostly living in Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos State, Ajeromi-Ifelodun area, Badagry and Ibeju- Lekki Local Government Area. For example, on January 24, 2014 three people drowned after a boat capsized at Ogogoro village, Boulos, at Navy Town in Apapa, while on a trip from Coconut Jetty to Ojo Town.

Seven of the 10 people on board were lucky to escape as help came on time. Majority of the passengers were women and children, even as the boat, which had no headlights collided with a bigger vehicle and broke into two. Also in April last year, a boat conveying more than 20 people from Ebute Ero on Lagos Island to Majidun, Ikorodu capsized. The ill-fated boat that claimed the lives of eight people was reported to have hit an object in the lagoon before going down, according to Bell Marine Services, owner of the boat. Twelve passengers were rescued after the accident that occurred between Eko Bridge and Ikorodu waterways.


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