By Evelyn Usman
It is no longer news that Nigeria, being a mono-economy nation, depends solely on revenue generated from oil for her economic survival. With territorial water of 12 nautical miles from the shoreline and an Exclusive Economic Zone, EZZ of 200 nautical miles from her territorial water, the country, is also strategically located along one of the most important and resource endowed coastal regions – the Gulf of Guinea.
Therefore, its relevance to the international is tied to the resources in the sea.
To maintain this standard, the Federal government through its major security agency- the Nigerian Navy, strives to ensure security along the nation’s maritime domain, by checkmating criminal activities such as piracy along the Gulf of Guinea’s corridor and other acts of criminalities like trafficking in human, arms smuggling, crude oil theft, illegal refinery, among others.
But the Federal Government’s effort at providing logistics and other support to the Navy and other relevant maritime law enforcement agencies like the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA , the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP , the Nigerian Police, the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASSA, may be an exercise in futility.
This is due to the increasing number of submerged wrecks which littered major channels in the nation’s waterways, an indication of disaster waiting to happen.
From major waters in Delta state, to Cross River, Rivers and Lagos states, down to the inland waters , the situation is same: maritime wrecks everywhere!
By the way, these wrecks were remains of sunken or stranded ships, or their parts in the sea. In some areas, about two or more ships were submerged in a particular spot, with some of their parts faintly visible on the surface of the water.
35 wrecks identified in Lagos
Surprisingly, 35 of these maritime wrecks have been identified and submerged, by the Nigerian Navy, along the ever busy Lagos-Badagry creek which provides access to the Lagos Ports.
There is no doubt that the Lagos Port, being the premiere port in Nigeria, is also the busiest and generated most revenue for the Federal government.
Aside being equipped with modern cargo handling equipment and personnel support facilities, the port, also boasts of four wheel gate of about eight meters for oversize cargoes, which has given it an edge over others in the handling of oversized cargoes, with all of its operational areas guarded by both armed and unarmed security personnel, as well as with Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) for effective manning.
But the presence of these maritime wrecks within the Lagos port’s channel poses threats to cargo vessels which come in or leave the port on 24-hours basis.
During an on-the-spot assessment of some of these wrecks within Tin-Can, Kikiri and Navy Town, in Lagos axis, Tuesday, Crime Guard observed that some of these wrecks grotesquely littered the channel. While some were totally submerged with visible traces of their parts on the surface , others, which were either abandoned or arrested but had remained at a particular position due to delayed justices, were tilted .
Sailing around these danger channels, may not rule out one or several mishaps, as ships are likely to run into the wrecks.
Navy Patrol vessel affected
A vivid instance of danger posed by these wrecks was the near incident of ship wreck, involving one of the Nigerian Navy’s patrol vessels – NNS CALABAR, four months ago. The patrol vessel, which struck a submerged wreck around Tin-Can /Kirikiri channel, in Lagos, had its keel damaged.
By the way, the keel of a vessel is the primary structural member and backbone of the vessel which runs along the centreline of the bottom plate around which the hull of the ship is built. It is the main longitudinal component of the ship to which every other main structural item is connected directly or indirectly.
The affected vessel was sighted at the Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, Lagos awaiting repairs. Perhaps the damage done on the patrol vessel and amount that will be used for its repairs, would have been avoided, had appropriate measures been taken by those concerned.
Again, the incident no doubt, will affect the glaring capability gaps of the Nigerian Navy, one of which is the inadequacy of the platforms which limits its its policing role.
Other ships, some of which never came to public glare, were reportedly also involved in similar mishaps in the past.
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Flag Officer Commanding, FOC Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji who led a team of journalists and senior naval personnel to the spot of the near misfortune, lamented that “ the hazard associated with submerged wrecks in our water is huge. These wrecks are littered along the waterways and constitute navigational hazards as well as endanger safety of shipping.
“Similarly, in times of distress calls, it becomes increasingly difficult for agencies responsible for such rescue to quickly react especially at night or in poor and restricted visibility.
He recalled a recent fire incident involving a merchant tanker, MT SEA VOYAGER, where some Pakistan nationals were rescued.
He noted that,” the Navy was able to swiftly react to the distress call because one of the Ships, NNS EKULU , was on patrol of the sea at night. As such, it was easy to vector her way for rescue operation, in which 11 Pakistan nationals were safely rescued from the ship.
“If the ship was to be deployed from its base in Navy Town, it would not have been that swift , considering the danger of maneuvering through these wrecks at that hour of the day”.
“Fortunately, the hydrographic office of the Nigerian Navy in line with its mandate has identified and resurveyed these wrecks for ease of salvage. It will therefore be necessary for appropriate authorities to take urgent action in the removal of these wrecks in our waterways”.
Another danger which calls for immediate attention on the Lagos water, as observed during the on-the-spot assessment was absence of some navigational aids such as buoys.
A buoy, otherwise called road sign is usually located on the surface of the water. It provides aid or information to mariners and people on shore. They are known as Aids to Navigation. They mark shipping channels, danger areas, safe water, and provide information to mariners.
They have different colours indicating their roles. Red and green buoys are the channel markers; they indicate the safe channel for vessels to transit in and out of port. They are numbered from the sea into port. Safe water marks are at the entrance to channels and let ships that are leaving know that there is now safe water (it is deep enough) all around. These buoys are red and white vertically striped.
Absence of these navigational aids according to the FOC, “ constitute navigational risks , especially at night or during restricted visibility down pour.
“Urgent replacement or servicing of these navigational aids, will greatly assist safe navigation, particularly in times of emergencies. The Nigerian Navy in carrying out its statutory responsibilities will collaborate with all relevant stakeholders to ensure safety and security of the waterways and secured environment for the prosperity of our nation in general”.
The looming danger will not only lead to colossal loss of lives, ships and goods, it is capable of hampering an enabling business environment for maritime operators, as well as dampen confidence of seafarers. It is therefore necessary for the relevant agencies to carry out clearance of these wrecks, rather than wait for tragedy to occur before taking steps.
Three agencies: Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASSA and the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA are responsible for clearing these wrecks.
But when spokesman for NIWA was contacted on phone, to know what the agency was doing about the wrecks, he directed this reporter to the Lagos Area Commander, promising to send his contact.
On his part, image-maker for NIMASSA, Mr Osagie Edward, requested this reporter to send him a mail on the matter.
But that of the Nigeria Ports Authority, Mr Adams Jato, said that the agency was only responsible for clearance of wrecks within its channel.
When asked which part of Lagos waters falls under NPA’s coverage, he responded, “our channels are Tin-Can, down to Apapa”.
When told that parts of the areas mentioned were visited and that wrecks were sighted, he said, “We remove wrecks from area that are critical to our channel and we commission consultants to clear them. Anything out of our area of concern is cleared by other agencies.
“Some of the wrecks you saw were the ones seized by the Navy and they went aground. So, it is not our concern. Where we have wrecks critical to our channel is what we clear”.