WHEN SEA TRAVELING IS VOYAGE OF DEATH

By Frank Odinukaeze and Chioma Akabuogu

WHEN SEA TRAVELING IS VOYAGE OF DEATH

In less than one week, Nigeria has witnessed the untimely and needless death of about nineteen persons from boat mishaps. First, it was the Ikpakodo , incident in which two people unfortunately died and fifteen others rescued alive.

The boat named “R & N 2”, left the Ikpakodo ferry terminal in Ikorodu at about 7: 04 am on the 6th July, 2022. carrying about seventeen (17) passengers suddenly capsized due to mechanical fault less than 200 meters from the terminal and immediately submerged.

According to a release by the Lagos State Water Ways (LASWA) signed by the General Manager, Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, and made available to MMS Plus, immediately the incident occurred,“The water guards and the search and rescue team of the LASWA, were mobilized to the scene of the incident leading to the rescue of 15 persons alive”.

The General Manager said the Boat captain is currently being investigated by the relevant authorities while full investigation into the cause of the mishap is ongoing. The second incident which also took the life of 17 people, all said to be from the same family happened on Friday 8th of July, 2022 at Ibeshe in the Mile 2 Area of Lagos. Incidentally, all the seventeen passengers from same family perished without a survivor.

This unfortunate incident calls for worry. Water transportation is one of the earliest forms of transportation. It is cheaper and pleasurable as it brings the operators and the passengers closer to nature with its serenity and blissful atmosphere. The advent of technology however has further accentuated its value and usage as it is now powered by automotive engines.  In a cosmopolitan city like Lagos with high population, road travels and movements has become more cumbersome as people spend valuable hours on traffic; hence the water transportation becomes handy and valuable even as it promotes the concept of multi-modal transportation.

Today, water travel has become a voyage of death particularly in sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria. In a continent or region where poverty and poor standards of living has forced people to lay their hands on anything just to eke out a living, it becomes very worrisome and disturbing that a lot of quacks and non-professionals would always find occasion to do whatever it is possible for them to survive, even at the expense of other people’s lives.

Following the two incidents of boat mishap in Lagos State, in less than a week, one is forced to ask: What are the causes of boat accident?

According to the US Coast Guard (USCG’s) recreational boating statistics, the most common cause of boating accidents is operator inattention. Operators inattention according to the study, can lead to collisions, passengers falling overboard and slip -and- falls on board, all of which can cause serious injuries and sometimes death.

The USCG reports that the main cause of boating accident leading to death is collision. Both collision with another watercraft and collision with stationary objects ranks leading causes of boating deaths. However, many fatalities are not caused by collision alone. There are other tangible and intangibles that could cause boating accidents leading to death.

USCG statistics on yearly fatalities of boaters reveal that 80 per cent of fatalities come  from drowning, 40 per cent from vessel capsizing, cold water and strong current were factors responsible for boat related deaths.

It is pertinent to note that the most likely cause of death or people falling overboard is standing up while the boat is moving. When a boat is moving, it is most likely to be swayed back and forth by boat waves or rough water. This causes people on small boats, particularly wooden boats or Canoes to lose their balance and fall overboard.  It is pertinent that the water ways regulatory bodies  like  National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Lagos State Water Ways Authority (LASWA) should up their games.

For several years, the problems associated with boat accidents have been under emphasized. Water transportation in Nigeria has suffered severe infrastructural and human capacity neglect, a situation that propelled fatality rate all over the country.

Agencies like NIWA, saddled with the responsibility of managing the water ways has been underfunded and equally mismanaged. Equipment deployment to monitor such water ways is obsolete and members of staff are unequipped with the requisite skills to man the facilities. As a result of the inefficiency in management and personnel, many people in their productive years as  witnessed in the Ibeshe incident, have been lost to boat mishaps and many goods lost as a result thereof.

Speaking to MMS Plus, on measures taken to check illegal operation Sarat Lara  Braimah, area manager, NIWA, said “We have constituted a Joint Task Force (JTF)which comprises NIWA, Boat Owners Association (BOA) Jetty Owners and the police to ensure all our regulations are complied with. The JTF are posted to all approved jetties in Lagos and we are on constant patrol to ensure illegal jetties do not operate”. She said only boats that have been surveyed and certified okay for such operations are approved. The NIWA Area Manager informed that “Wooden canoes that meet all the requirements in certain riverine communities may be allowed to do transportation”.

On the challenges faced by the regulatory agency, she had this to say.” The major challenge is that of operators who find it difficult to follow the standard procedures (SP). There are challenges with riverine communities who litter the Lagoon with all kinds of refuse and finally operators who operate at night”.

 Observers are worried that the spate of boat mishaps that have claimed several lives recently calls for serious proactive measures by both NIWA and LASWA.

According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the number of deaths from boat incidents from  2008-2020 is 767 deaths, while the number of injuries is put at 3,193.

The water transportation is a veritable source of income, if properly managed. The agencies like; NIWA and LASWA should be properly founded and regular training of personnel done. NIWA should ensure that there are supervisors at all the approved jetties to check irregularities and ensure proper compliance to the laid down laws and rules.

There is also need for private participation (PP) in the running of the jetties to make it more profitable. The involvement of professionals would limit or reduce the incidences of boat mishap as they would ensure that quacks and illegal operators are done away with. And this is where Nigerian Ports Authority ( NPA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety ( NIMASA) come in. Both NPA and NIMASA  should have knowledge of the number of jetties in the country and find a way to make them safer and profitable.

And that underscores the reason why the call for private and professionals’   involvement in the management of the jetties has become inevitable.

Speaking to MMS Plus,President of the National Association of Stevedoring Operators (NASO), Bolaji Sunmola noted that jetties are good sources of income to the government. All it requires is for the proper mechanism to be put in place.

“Let the Professionals be involved because you have to take possession before you lay claims for professionals to come in.”

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