Concerned by the worsening traffic situation in the state, the Lagos State government is focused on developing water transportation in the state, writes Kayode Fasua
A few months ago, the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) received a distress call at about 5:30pm that a boat had capsized at the Ebute Terminal in Lagos, drowning five persons. The entire office of the agency was thrown into quandary.
Swiftly, rescue workers were mobilised to the scene of the incident, to at least, see what could be salvaged.
On arrival, it was observed that a 20-capacity passenger boat had capsized mid-sea, enroute Ikorodu from Lagos Island.
"Unfortunately, five persons (four adult females and one adult male) were confirmed dead as a result of the incident.
"Their bodies were deposited at the morgue at Ikorodu General Hospital, while five persons (four female and one male) were rescued alive," a LASEMA bulletin stated.
It added that the rescue was carried out by the combined effort of LASEMA, the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), the Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) and the State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit (SEHMU).
Way back in May 2016 too, one person was confirmed dead and 27 others injured when a 30-seater commercial boat identified as HMS 1, capsized on Ikorodu waterways.
The boat, according to reports, capsized about 400 meters away from its take-off point-Origin Jetty, at Ikorodu, when it collided with a log abandoned on the waterways by sawmill operators.
Residents in the area blamed the accident on over-loading and over-speeding on the part of the operator, stressing that the fatality could have been averted if the boat was not on high speed.
Confirming the disaster, the General Manager of LASEMA at the period, Mr. Michael Akindele, warned boat operators to avoid over-speeding and to always comply with safety regulations on the waterways, to avoid loss of lives. He also noted that proper investigation would be conducted on the incident.
Lamenting the disaster too, the Managing Director of LASWA, Mrs. Abisola Kamson, noted that the rescue operation started immediately, saying, "27 passengers were rescued from the incident, but one passenger was confirmed dead at the scene of the incident."
She, however, reiterated that LASWA and NIWA had issued out new guidelines and standards to boat operators in Lagos, aimed at sanitising and improving the waterways-including a minimum double-hull standard, among others. Kamson added that the state government would continue to intensify efforts to speed up the implementation of new reforms in the waterway sector, "so as to prevent any unfortunate future occurrences."
A few months ago also, the Lagos State Government announced the rescue of 19 persons in a boat mishap, which occurred in Oworonshoki end of the popular Third Mainland Bridge. A passenger, however, died.
The Managing Director of LASWA, Mr. Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, relating the incident, said the 19 persons were rescued alive by the agency, while one of the passengers on board the boat "was unfortunately lost."
The passenger boat identified as SEALINK was said to be travelling from Ikorodu to CMS when the incident occurred at about 9:30am in Oworonshoki, after hitting a submerged object.
Emmanuel said the 19 persons rescued were taken to Ebute Ero Jetty from where they were transferred to the hospital.
He said, "A passenger boat named SEALINK with 20 passengers and two crew onboard coming from Ikorodu to CMS ran over a submerged wooden boat close to Third Mainland Bridge. Nineteen passengers were carried to safety to Ebute Ero Jetty.
"The LASWA emergency response team recovered a female body (identified as a police officer attached to Zone Two police station) and handed over the corpse to the Marine Police. Her husband is an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).
"The submerged SEALINK Boat has been salvaged and towed to a secure location, off the waterways. Salvaging Operations is also taking place to get the submerged wooden boat off the navigable channel."
Emmanuel added that the crew members of the said SEALINK Boat had been taken to police custody as investigation was in progress.
While commiserating with the family of the deceased, the LASWA boss assured that the state government would not relent in coming up with policies and programmes aimed at ensuring safety on the waterways.
Arising from all these, however, the excesses of speedboat operators on the Lagos waterways may have sufficiently worried a state government that is deploying water transportation as one of the escape routes from the city's daily traffic logjam, beyond the sure prospect of revenue generation.
Experts contend that impossible delays on Lagos roads arising from traffic snarls will ultimately force the government to improve on water transportation, especially along the coastal areas of Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Lekki.
An engineer, Mr. Sunday Boluwaji, said, "The state government has come to the full realisation of the fact that apart from creating more access roads, it also has to show more than keen interest in water transportation, especially for those who work on the Island and Apapa."
Corroborating him, a civil engineer, Mr. Raphael Chinedu, tasked the government to conduct proper training for all speedboat operators on safety measures, on quarterly basis.
"This way, they willflow with the thinking of government and see themselves as stakeholders in maritime transportation and not just see government involvement as a way of ending their source of income."
Only recently, the LASWA warned boat operators to always ensure that their passengers use life jackets before embarking on any voyage, saying failure would henceforth attract severe sanctions.
The warning came as LASWA conducted a simulation exercise on rescue of victims of boat mishap at Ebute-Ero Jetty, Lagos Island, as part of safety campaigns across jetties in the state.
The simulation exercise conducted to enlighten water users on what to do in case of a boat accident, was done by LASWA in collaboration with members of LASEMA.
After the exercise, the state government gave all operators on waterways two weeks to comply with safety guidelines and laws, particularly, the compulsory use of life jackets by passengers.
Besides, the Lagos State Government recently distributed over 2,500 life jackets to boat operators for their passengers to use.
But in what appeared as a way of announcing its poise to closely monitor water transportation and improve on its operations, especially with regard to safety of lives, the Lagos State Government, recently inaugurated an ultra modern ferry terminal and the headquarters of the LASWA in Falomo area of the state.
The state governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, on the occasion, restated that no effort would be spared to harness the potentials of the water transport sector for the overall benefit of residents.
Ambode, who was represented by the state's Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, also inaugurated a multi-level car park within the same premises, noting that unveiling the edifice which was delivered through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with MTN Nigeria, emphasised the readiness of the state government to take full control of its waterways, for effective operations.
Ambode, also said the completion of the project, which started seven years ago, was a clear demonstration of the commitment of the state government to ensuring the overall development of water transportation in the state.
Alluding to the fact that water transportation had been proved, worldwide, to be an effective and efficient transport system, the governor said despite its potentials, the sector had remained largely underdeveloped; as it only accounted, rather abysmally, for less than one per cent of the overall traffic in the state.
Such a situation, the governor noted, necessitated the massive investments and reforms of his administration in the sector.
"In furtherance of our commitment to develop the water transportation system which is an integral component of the Lagos State Multi-Modal Transport System, we have invested significantly in the provision of water transportation infrastructure, especially, the rehabilitation of existing and construction of new jetties; purchase of two clearing machines with navigational equipment to tackle the challenges posed by water hyacinth, and the ongoing installation of safety signs for routes demarcation, among others.
"In addition, we have concluded plans for the procurement of seven high-capacity passenger ferries to complement the existing ones, while we also plan to assist commercial ferry operators to acquire new standard boats.
"All of these are with the intent of encouraging more private-sector investment in water transportation. The long-term objective is to reduce the pressure on our roads as our people increasingly embrace water transportation system," Ambode said.
While reiterating the commitment of his administration to continue to protect the interest of those using the waterways especially in the area of providing the entire residents of the state with quality and affordable water transport services, the governor also reinforced the determination of his administration to ensure that waterways in the state were safe and secure.
Besides, he commended MTN Nigeria for joining hands with the state government to bring its aspiration in the water transportation sub-sector to fruition.
He therefore, urged other private sector stakeholders to take advantage of the emerging investment opportunities in the Lagos water transport projects.
Emmanuel commended the governor for "his unparalleled commitment and support towards the upgrading, construction and equipping of waterways infrastructure in the state.
"This terminal is expected to attract new investors, boost water transportation and reduce vehicular traffic on Lagos roads and also complement the efforts of the Lagos State Government toward promoting Inter-Modal Transport System in the state, thereby increasing the efficiency of government interventions in the sector.
"On our part, LASWA remains committed to delivering an enabling environment to all waterways users. We are deepening and broadening or capacities to surpass all expectations in this regard," Emmanuel said.
Reacting, however, the Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mr Ferdi Moolman, said the telecom company was delighted to partner with the state government to deliver another milestone that would lead to a better transport system and improved quality of lives for millions of the state's water transportation users