22 August 2014

Nigeria: Safety and the Waterways


The rising number of deaths occasioned by boat mishaps on the nation's waterways should indeed be a serious cause for concern to the authorities. So frequent are these accidents that between January and July this year alone, no fewer than a 100 lives have been lost on our waterways. While critical stakeholders in the Master Mariners Association of Nigeria (MMAN) have had to cry out on the need to address the situation, nothing seems to have been done in that direction.

It is noteworthy that following the boat mishap at Ikorodu which claimed several lives on April 2 this year, the Lagos State government established a fact-finding committee to determine the immediate and remote causes of the accident and came up with recommendations to prevent a recurrence. Although the report is yet to be made public, the Lagos State government recently came up with some safety standards, including making it mandatory that all operators of water transport in the state to have a life-jacket for each passenger on board.

While we commend the proactive stance of the Lagos State Government, we note with sadness that in most other states, especially in the riverine areas, not much attention has been paid to the issue of safety of those who travel by water. We urge the authorities concerned in those states as well as the federal government to take the issue of safety on our waterways more seriously.

It is understandable that these boat accidents are inevitable in the creeks and coastlines especially given the fact that the people living in those areas have no alternative means of transportation. But because of the absence of other reliable transportation system, people tend to pile into whatever watercraft happens to be moving towards the direction they are going. This exactly explains the reason for the incessant boat accidents given that most of the time very small wooden canoes carry passengers far beyond their capacity.

It is a notorious fact that there is hardly any ferry, canoe or the so-called "flying boat" that keeps to the exact passenger number specification. Aside from overloading, another cause of these marine accidents is the fact that most of the boats are old and suffer from lack of proper maintenance. Perhaps more important is the obvious absence of enforcement of safety standards. In fact not much is known about the existence of any mandatory operational guidelines for ownership of ferries and boats and the minimum standards that must be met to be in the business of ferrying people through the waters.

Again that explains why in some instances boats that were constructed to carry not more than 20 persons could be loaded with 50 or more passengers especially at peak periods when people are in a hurry to get back to their places. Consequently when the canoe encounters stormy conditions along the water, the sheer weight of the human cargo and other luggage would make it easily susceptible to capsize. Furthermore, the fact that there are no life-jackets on board is a sure guarantee that casualty was bound to be large. There is no doubt that water transportation could be one clear source of decongesting the roads in places where road travel could result in spending frustrating hours in traffic. But there should be a regular inspection of these boats just like motor vehicles are inspected for their road worthiness in order to detect dilapidated and rickety ones which constitute serious hazard to human lives.

Provision of emergency services along the waterways is also worthy of consideration. All these and other safety measures would definitely go a long way in minimising the number of deaths on the nation's waterways.

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