In recent times, Nigeria has been experiencing boat mishaps with fatalities running into hundreds and it has become imperative to nip these ugly incidents in the bud before the next one happens.
In June 2023, no fewer than 110 Nigerians including a father and his four children lost their lives in a boat mishap in Kwara State while returning from a wedding ceremony in Niger State.
Abdul Gana Lukpada, a traditional chief in Kpada, in Patigi district of north-central Kwara State, disclosed that the boat said to be carrying up to 300 people, overturned after hitting a tree trunk at around 3 am- 4 am in the morning.
The previous month, May 2023, at least fifteen people died after a boat carrying mainly children who were in search of firewood capsized in Sokoto State. 21 out of 36 people on board were rescued after the boat overturned in the Dandeji River in Sokoto’s Shagari District.
Three promising medical students from the Nigeria Medical Students Association (NIMSA) who were on a boat cruise lost their lives at the Marina Resort in Cross River State, south-south Nigeria when their speed boat capsized.
In the first month of 2023, at least 15 passengers died after a boat ferrying more than 100 passengers returning from a farm on the River Niger, broke into half as it approached Samanaji village in Koko-Besse district in Kebbi State. The list goes on and on!
While there are no official databases or statistics of the number of lives lost to boat accidents in Nigeria, unconfirmed reports put the figure at about 3000 in the last decade alone.
According to investigations by MMS Plus, some of the factors that have contributed to the rising incidents of boat mishaps include the use of rickety boats and ferries, overloading, night and very early morning journeys, careless piloting and non-adherence to safety standards, including the absence of life jackets.
Others include poor ship and boat maintenance, and boat operators’ over-rated knowledge of the water channels to convey passengers and goods to different destinations without navigational equipment, adequate training and certification in safety measures and navigational techniques among others.
According to the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), one of the agencies saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring safety on Nigerian waterways, the agency while reacting to the Kwara mishap blamed the boat operator for flouting extant laws and regulations.
“Preliminary investigations through our Area Manager in Minna/Kwara Area Office revealed that the boat driver and wedding guests were on the ill-fated voyage at about 2:30 am, which speaks volumes about the disregard for the laws regulating Inland Waterways navigation.
Furthermore, for a wooden boat to have allegedly been carrying more than 200 passengers at once without using life jackets and sailing in the night was certainly gross overloading and misconduct” the agency said.
The Waterfront Boat Owners and Transporters Association (WABOTAN) speaking on the various boat mishaps in the country described the development as very disheartening.
“Well, it is very disheartening for us as an association and as stakeholders in the water transport sector, we have always said we are trying to make water transport as safe as possible. So, it is very disheartening when such happens, and why we make efforts to ensure that those kinds of mishaps are prevented. We also pray that it should not happen again” Chief Raymond Gold, the association’s Public Relations Officer told MMS Plus.
Continuing, he disclosed that such incidents have very big impacts because they are not good news to hear and it can drive fear into the heart of the people to shun water transportation.
It’s not a good thing, not a good thing to hear. It could lead to fear, making people to be afraid to travel by water.
However, we should put things in place to ensure that they don’t happen. And even when they happen, we should also make every effort to salvage the situation by promoting the use of safety gear and encouraging the use of safety gear that keeps people afloat before help could come.
Regulatory agencies should also ensure the enforcement of water safety rules. Also, I’m sure that we can also put in place rescue teams here and there and they could be mobilized from the nearest available spot of the accidents to mitigate the casualty. These are some of the things that we are doing and working towards” he disclosed.
He also volunteered that the association is carrying out the training and retraining of boat owners, boat drivers, and boat operators to enhance their capacity and bolster safety measures.
“We need to train them, and we will be doing this training regularly. It’s been acknowledged by major stakeholders that our training has contributed to the improvements that is being recorded in the water transport sector of Lagos State” he added.
Speaking on how to curb the frequency of boat mishaps in the country, Jibril Darda’u, General Manager, Corporate Affairs Department, NIWA disclosed to MMS Plus that NIWA under the leadership of Dr. George Moghalu (MD/CEO) has long commenced the training and certification of boat drivers nationwide with the view to ensuring professionalism, regular safety awareness and sensitization campaigns across the country which is in addition to regular security and compliance patrols on the Waterways by the team of NIWA police.
“NIWA has already established nine search and rescue stations in Lagos, Lokoja, Port Harcourt, Yauri, and New Bussa amongst others for timely rescues.
The Authority has standardized its inspection of vessels to ensure standard and safety compliance, that is River worthiness of the vessels before registration and permits are given out.
The Authority has deployed its personnel to various loading terminals to provide pre-loading safety talk to passengers and prevent overloading and night sailing.
The provision of life jackets to boat operators nationwide is also a constant exercise by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), and the Authority will not relent in its mandate for safe Inland water Transportation in the country” he disclosed.
On his part, Gold disclosed that the association is partnering with the government to ensure that we encourage not just water safety, but we will develop very solid structures related to water transportation like good jetties.
“All these measures that we are pursuing will ensure that water transportation becomes very safe particularly where you have to go on long-distance journeys, we must ensure that operators and practitioners are well trained, that they are very conscious of safety and security on the water. These are some of the efforts that we are making” he added.
He also disclosed that having an insurance scheme in place will also encourage the use of water transportation while calling on the government to partner with the association and operators in the industry on insurance packages to mitigate the effect of such mishaps.
“In the area of insurance, as an association we are developing, we have some plans. For users, that is those whom we are transporting and moving by water, and even for our drivers because we have both owners and drivers in our own association.
There is a limit to what an association can do. There are certain areas we need help, where the government must come in.
It would be good if the comprehensive insurance package is there. Maybe a kind of participatory thing on the part of the fare paid, the user pays something which would go into this scheme, which is something that I think has been done with the road transport system.
We have this plan as an association, and in several cases here we’ve had a reason to discuss it with government agencies on it. We’ve already explained it as well. So we are using this opportunity to call on the government to listen to these ideas that we are proposing and implement the possibility of putting them in place sooner because, at the end of the day, nobody prefers them to happen but most times they happen, and when they happen, the best we can do is to say that we manage the situation.
So, we call on the government to look at these plans that we have been proposing, and we’ve been doing this for some time, look at these plans. It will be good if there’s an insurance package that takes care of things like this. It will also be good if the government supports it by also making the enabling law,
For example, when you pay tax, a part of it goes for insurance, and if anything happens, there is what they call the basics, for example, rescue operation of water mishaps, rescue and recovery, mortuary, ambulance, and all that, they could be covered by this kind of thing. Then we also look at the case of any kind of permanent disability” he said.
The spate of the boat mishap in the country has also gotten the attention of the House of Representatives.
The lower chamber adopting a motion initiated by Mr. Rodney Ambaiowei representing Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State at the plenary presided over by Speaker Tajudeen Abass, the House urged the National Orientation Agency and National Meteorological Agency to commence a copious awareness campaign on safety measures necessary to prevent boat and watercraft hazards.
The House further mandated the Committee on Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to undertake a visit to the Netherlands to understudy how the country runs its Boats and watercraft in their coastlines and waterways transportation system with minimal casualties.
The House particularly called on both agencies to devise new strategic regulatory guidelines and ensure compliance while enhancing rescue measures to ensure adequate security of lives and property.