Need to ensure safety on our waterways

Boat accidents are more frequent, and more severe, in second- and third-world countries, where overcrowding goes hand in hand with lax safety regulations.

Passenger boats in developing countries like Nigeria are often old vessels, sometimes repurposed to operate in waterways for which they weren’t designed.

The boats are often overcrowded, which can throw them off balance or make them top heavy and more prone to capsizing. And when crewmembers are inadequately trained, they are uncertain of how to respond in the event of a disaster, exacerbating these problems. Moreover, government safety regulations are far less stringent or go unenforced.

Nigeria has had its own share of tragic mishaps on the waterways in recent times. Last year was a particularly dreadful year for inland water transportation commuters with the first mishap claiming three lives at Navy Town, Lagos in January.

In March 2014, a commercial boat capsized on a canal on 4th Avenue, 42 Road, Festac Town, Lagos, resulting in the death of no fewer than 18 passengers.

The same month, nearly 100 people perished when a passenger boat that set off from neighbouring Benin Republic capsized off Cross River State.

On April 2, 2014 in Majidun River in Ikorodu, Lagos, no fewer than eight people reportedly lost their lives while local divers rescued several others in a boat accident. The boat, which departed Ebute-Ero jetty on Lagos Island at about 5:30pm for the Majidun Jetty in Ikorodu reportedly ran into a large underwater object, causing it to capsize.

Also, on December 26, 2013, a boat carrying about 50 passengers on the Buruku River in Buruku Local Government of Benue state capsized, killing some of its passengers. Elsewhere, a boat overloaded with passengers and goods travelling on the Niger River overturned, killing 42 people with hundreds others missing. The boat with an estimated 150 passengers on board broke into two after setting off from Malilli village in Niger State.

Deaths through boat and ferry accidents on the nation’s waterways have become routine.

Poor state of the boats and canoes plying the waterways, overloading, poorly trained operators and lack of regards for safety measures coupled with poor search and rescue measures all contribute in exacerbating accidents on the nation’s inland waterways.

This trend has therefore created an urgent need for the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), which is the body constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of managing Nigeria’s vast inland waterway resources, to institute decisive measures to stem the ugly tide.

NIWA must register all passenger boats and ferries plying the waters. The owners and operators of the vessels must also be registered and made to undertake regular mandatory trainings on safety regulations and emergency response.

NIWA must strengthen its monitoring capacity to ensure that only seaworthy crafts are allowed on the waterways while overloading must not be allowed. Passengers must also mandatorily don life jackets while commuting on the waterways.

NIWA should collaborate with relevant stakeholders to establish search and rescue volunteer groups in all marine communities across the country, intensify and regularise its awareness campaigns on modern marine safety measures.

NIWA must not hesitate to sanction and blacklist operators that fail to comply with safety regulations, including the order banning night travela on the waterways.

Nigeria has recorded enough deaths in its water transport industry and no effort must be spared in stopping the needless loss of lives.

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