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17 Oct 2017

Death in the River: The Untold Story Of Boat Accidents In Nigeria

The stories have been told of the many boat accidents occurring around Nigeria, claiming many lives in it wake.
 File photo
On Thursday, October, 12, five young, promising students of Victory International School, Angwan Yelwa, Television Garage, in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, perished when their boat capsized. The senior students of the college, numbering about 73, had embarked on an excursion, aimed at broadening their knowledge base, but sadly, five of them never returned alive. Their lives were cut short, when the boat they were cruising in, capsized at Malali axis of River Kaduna.

According to report, they were trying to cross over from the side of the Kaduna State Water Pump Station to the opposite end, when the unfortunate incident happened.  The report attributed the cause of the mishap to overweight.

One of the survivors was quoted to have said: “The tour-guide never told us the crane that controls the boat would not be able to support heavy weight. And that may have resulted to the breaking of the connecting metals holding the frames to it, thereby forcing the boat to capsize.”

Their case was made worse by the action of their guardians and boat operators who allowed them to embark on the trip without life jackets.
On Wednesday, October 11, another boat mishap in Lagos claimed one life; while 19 others were rescued having sustained various degrees of injuries.

The boat, which capsized at the Oworonshoki end of the Third Mainland Bridge in the state, was said to be travelling from Ikorodu to CMS. It was also alleged to be conveying 21 passengers, when the incident occurred.

Confirming the incident, the Managing Director of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mr. Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, said 19 persons were rescued alive by the agency, while one of the passengers identified to be a female police officer, unfortunately lost her life.

Mr. Emmanuel said: “The LASWA Emergency Response Team, in joint effort with the Marine Police and the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) recovered a female body, identified as a police officer, attached to Zone Two Police Command and handed over the body to the Marine Police. Her husband is an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).

However, on Wednesday, October 4, another boat accident claimed 16 lives in Niger State. The incident happened barely one month after the state recorded more than 30 deaths from a similar incident.

According to report, it occurred at Rofya in the Agwara Local Government Area of the state. The report stated that the victims, who were allegedly from Zamare in Kebbi State, were on their way to see an Arabic inscription of Prophet Muhammad on a rock in the River Niger, when the incident happened.

It was reported that the canoe, which had about 50 passengers, broke into two when it hit a tree trunk that was rolling aimlessly in the river.

The Public Relations Officer of the Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA), Hussaini Abdullahi, who confirmed the incident, said the agency was in touch with the community to get the authentic number of those involved but confirmed that victims were not from Niger State.

Again, on Sunday, September 17, about 50 persons, including children, were reportedly involved in another boat mishap in Niger State.

The report stated that no fewer than 50 persons perished in the mishap. The cause of the accident, which reportedly occurred in the early hours of the day, was attributed to a heavy rainfall, while the victims were sailing in the boat.

“Over 60 of them, going to Zumba Market in Shiroro Local Government Area of the state were involved in the mishap. Their boat ran into a rain storm.” a witness was quoted to have said.

It was reported that the boat capsized at Kiri village, in Munya Local Government Area of the state, when the water tide overwhelmed it.

Then, on Sunday, August 20, tragedy also struck on Lagos waterways, when a boat with no fewer than 19 passengers on board, capsized in the middle of the lagoon, in Ilashe area of the state, killing 12 people.

The accident was said to have occurred due to overloading of passengers on a Banana boat taking off from an illegal jetty. The development, according to the report, has become a perennial problem to the Lagos state government, in its effort to rid its waterfront areas of illegal operators.

The South-West Zonal Spokesperson of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ibrahim Farinloye, said most of the deceased persons were children.

He said: “NEMA has just been alerted of a capsized boat. Nine dead bodies have been recovered, while some others are still missing. The boat is said to be a private boat conveying church members from one side of Ilase village to the other side of the beach. As at now, the number onboard the passenger boat is unknown but there is no indication that anyone had lifejackets on when the incident happened.

“Unconfirmed reports indicate that many children are involved. However, the marine police will investigate the cause of the incident after our search and rescue operations.”

Experts speak

Reacting to the rising trend, the General Manager, Corporate Services, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Tayo Fadile, revealed that much as the situation was unfortunate, it was expected, because waters are currently turbulent, especially in the north. He said a very heavy rain storm currently blows across the waterways in the north. That, he said, had predisposed travellers to grave dangers, because a lot of the mishaps are caused by rain storms. He stated that even though the waterways seem to be turbulent, some of the accidents could still be avoided if the operators adhere strictly to safety instructions.

He said: “We have always told them that they should not travel when there is heavy rain storm but some people will not listen. We have also told them not to travel after 6:00pm because we have discovered that almost all the mishaps that happened in the north occurred after six in the evening. But they wouldn’t listen.”

He attributed most of the boat mishaps to the carelessness on the part of the part of boat owners. He lamented that some of the boats were over 20 years and the owners have refused to overhaul them or change them.

He identified overloading as another factor responsible for most of the mishaps. He said: “Some will put like five cows in their boat before they put human beings and when you ask them how many passengers they are carrying, they will say they have only five. What about the five cows; do you know their weight? Some others will put 10 bags of corn inside the canoe and say they are carrying only four passengers. Do you know the weight of 10 bags of corn? Those are the kind of things that happen. The 10 bags of corn are more than 10 passengers, in terms of weight for the canoe.”

Mr. Fadile equally said that wearing of life jackets, which are meant to save lives in the event of accident, is grossly abused by both the operators and passengers. He said: “We have also warned them to always wear life-jacket before they embark on any journey but they will tell you that their great forefathers never wore any life-jacket and they have been travelling on waterways; so why should they wear it? And that has been responsible for the high casualty figure whenever a boat capsizes because they don’t put on the life jacket, which would have kept them afloat until rescue team arrives.”

On what NIWA is doing to ensure that such ugly incidents are drastically minimized, he said: “We are on another public campaign now. We will be going to Niger, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, as from Monday to sensitize the boat operators on why they should adhere to NIWA safety rules. There are rules on waterways and we advertise them on national dailies but operators don’t follow them. NIWA does not have the capacity or the facility to patrol across the breadth and length of all the waterways in Nigeria.

“The only thing we can do is to continue to campaign and to encourage them to obey the safety instructions. If they can obey the instructions, there will be less of these accidents. We cannot eliminate it completely because even in the advanced world, they still have boat mishaps but they will be reduced; the number of accidents will be reduced. But, they don’t adhere to safety instruction.”

He said his agency had been campaigning against non-use of safety jacket and night journey among other rules aimed at guaranteeing safety of lives on waterways but lamented that operators had always flouted the rules with impunity.

He said NIWA has always warned: “Put on your life jacket and if it is in the night, don’t travel; postpone your journey. If you look at the weather and it is bad such that there is likely going to be heavy rainstorm, then postpone the journey; why are you taking the risk?”

Submitting that a lot of the mishaps are man-made, he said: “We will continue to encourage them to obey the rules; that is the only thing we can do. We can’t force them.”

Apart from enlightenment, what other step does the agency take to ensure that waterways are rid of such illegal activities that expose travellers’ lives to danger?

He said: “We are trying to get arresting team that will patrol along the waterways and any boat that is not properly registered will be confiscated. If you are travelling in the night, they will send you back. If your boat is not good enough, they will confiscate it. If you are not wearing life-jacket, they will send you back. So, we are going to put those measures in place.”

However, Mr. Fadile strongly believes that the situation on the waterways will get better when operators begin to obey safety instructions. He also insisted that actually, “this is the season of storms; wind storm and rain storm, and that it is not good to travel on the waterways now, especially in the night because our waterways do not have navigational light.”

Also speaking on the development, the National President of Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers, Mr. Matthew Alalade insisted that all the boats that operate on the waterways need to be examined to determine those that ought to be phased out.

He also said there should be regular trainings of those who are operating the boat. “Let them be certified; let it not be an all comer’s affairs, where anybody can just come in and start operating boat. Those who operate the boats must also be examined. There must be annual inspection and they must go back to class for their certificates to be examined,” he said.

He corroborated Fadile’s assertion that most of the operators and passengers don’t use life-jackets. “Some passengers would not like to use life-jacket; they will tell you, it is not their business.  I think anybody who refuses to use life-jacket should not be allowed to be in a boat,” he said.

He also charged the regulatory authorities to be alive to their responsibilities. “The regulatory authorities should also be around at various jetties to check the operators and ensure that all passengers put on life-jackets.

“Let the authorities also identify wrecks and if possible remove them along the waterways. Let the life jacket be properly worn and checked by authorities at disembarkation and embarkation,” he added.

He also identified alcohol as another cause of accidents on waterways. He also corroborated Fadile’s reference to weather as a contributory factor to boat mishaps. He, therefore, asked the concerned authorities to rise to the challenge, saying, “There should be strict adherence to the law prohibiting alcohol intake by the boat drivers. The law says no alcohol 12 hours before a journey. There should be strict adherence to weather forecast before movement. The operators should be regulated by checking and re-examination.”

Again, the Nigeria Police Force Marine Officer, Force Headquarters, Abuja, Superintendent Chinedu Iwuozor, said although the tidal waves had risen, and the water level had appreciated so much, but the rising boat mishaps are still the handiwork of waterways users, who had thrown caution to the winds.

“Even when we, as enforcement agents try to regulate them, sometimes, they prove so stubborn. They are supposed to use life safety appliances, like life jackets because they are the things that can keep people afloat if there is any accident, but they don’t,” he lamented.

He equally said overloading was responsible for most of the mishaps on waterways. “Most of the boats are overloaded. Just like what obtains on the land when you see tricycle operators carrying too many loads, boats are also overloaded,” he said.

On the Kaduna incident, he said: “Like the case of Kaduna, we don’t have the presence of Marine Police there because most of the waters are seasonal and they are not navigable, per se. But all the same, the whole essence is to apply all the safety measures. We are embarking on active sensitisation, and we have directed all the state marine officers to work with all the stakeholders within the maritime domain. It gives us a great concern that people are losing their lives, just as it happened in Kaduna,” he stated.

He advised that whenever people want to engage on waterways movement, they should be sure that there are experts, especially live savers, in case of any casualty.

Responding to the issue of whether boat drivers are certified, the marine officer said: “We have various forms of certification. For local waterways users like the fishermen that operate in the local areas, they are not certified but those that use engine boats are supposed to be certified by NIWA, which regulates their activities. But, at the level of enforcement, our own is to ensure that all the safety measures are applied.”

He added that recklessness on the part of waterways users equally contributes to boat accidents. “Some of the boat operators are reckless so much that they engage in drunkenness like what you have on land. If you check most of the waterways jetties, they have places where they sell intoxicated drinks. So, some of them drink before they embark on journey. Those are the things we discourage and we also encourage the public to be aware of such actions,” he said.

Nigerians react

The Founder and Coordinator, Women Arise Initiative for Change, Dr. Josephine Okei-Odumakin described the development as sad and called for immediate action by all concerned authorities, particularly those in charge of the waterways.

She said: “One sad practice that I have noticed is the non-adherence of boat operators on the waterways to the use of safety jackets. And this has become a major factor that leads to loss of lives whenever there is a mishap on the waterway.

“Therefore, there must be an immediate enforcement of every law guiding the operations of the transport system on the waterways. Most importantly, there must be proper regulations and enforcement like what we have on our roads across the country through the efforts of the Federal Road Safety Corps; such efforts must be replicated on our waterways.”

Also speaking, Mr. Chidiebere Eze chided both the state and federal governments’ agencies for failing in their responsibility. He believes that government has no justifiable reason as to why it has not been able to protect lives on waterways. “To me, the excuse that government does not have the capacity to police all the waterways in the country is untenable. It is either you are into water transport or you are out of it. But, if you accept it as a necessary means of transport, then you must deploy all necessary apparatus, including the regulatory tools to ensure that it does not only function, but also that those who will make use of it are safe.

“Secondly, for a regulatory agency to say that it cannot force people to wear life jacket is also lame. I don’t believe such excuse. They should just sit up and do their job. Life is so precious to be wasted just like that,” he stated.

Operator speaks

A visit to the Cocoanut Jetty along Mile 2-Apapa Expressway, revealed how ineffective the enforcement of the use of life jacket is. While most passengers wore life jackets, few others didn’t bother to wear the life-saver.

When one of the operators, who gave his name as TJ was accosted, he simply said that some passengers don’t like putting on the life jacket and they can’t force them to do so. He also said that those who refuse to put on jackets could be arrested by the marine police, if they run into them.

He affirmed that most of the local boat operators are not certified by any agency, except those who want to work in an expatriate company. “It is only if you want to work with the white people that you bother about certification, otherwise most people here don’t have any certificate.

There is no license like what obtains on land where people get driver’s license before they are allowed to drive a car. Here, it is not like that. Most of us learn it from our brothers. Again, most people who live on the riverrine cannot but learn how to drive boat or how to paddle canoe. For some people, it runs in their family,” he revealed.

On the allegation that they always overload their boat, he said: “The boats have different capacities. Some are 60 horsepower; others are 120, 150 or even more. If you load what a 120 horsepower boat is supposed to carry in a 60 horsepower boat, then it amounts to overloading. So, bros, it depends on the capacity of the boat engine,” he submitted.

He however admitted that the only problem they encounter on their route, which is from Cocoanut Jetty to Igbologun area of the Snake Island, is that some boats are too old and need to e replaced.

***
Via The Sun News

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