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Boat mishap raises concern about regulatory lapses on waterways

By Adaku Onyenucheya
14 June 2023   |   2:00 am
The recent boat mishap in Ondo state, which claimed the lives of at least five persons, has again raised concern about lapses in the regulatory authorities and their inability to enforce poor safety sanctions on erring persons.

Waterways

The recent boat mishap in Ondo state, which claimed the lives of at least five persons, has again raised concern about lapses in the regulatory authorities and their inability to enforce poor safety sanctions on erring persons.

It also pointed to the government’s inability to dredge and clear the waterways to facilitate safe and unobstructed movement for boats and passengers.

The Federal Government, in four years of the former President Muhammadu Buhari, allocated N2.8 billion in the national budget for the removal of wrecks, clearing of water hyacinths, floating debris and other wastes as well as maintenance of dredging within the inland waterways across the country.

The National President of the Ondo State Fishermen Association of Nigeria, Orioye Gbayisemore, confirmed that the casualties were due to the non-usage of life jackets, as well as the lack of dredging and clearing of waterways.

The Waterfront Boat Owners and Transporters Association (WABOTAN) had said it partnered with the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to set up a Joint task force that works day and night manning all the jetties to ensure safety standards are followed.

The Lagos State Chairman of WABOTAN, Jacob Ebiboh, confirmed that passengers board boats without life jackets, while some boats move without indication lights, especially those going to Badagry.

He also confirmed that some captains of boats always drink and get drunk before embarking on a journey, but said the taskforce is stationed at the various jetties to ensure they checkout the captains of the boats, while also ensuring passengers put on their life jackets.

The Public Relations Officer, WABOTAN, Lagos Chapter, Ramon Babatunde, said the association subsequently mapped out a plan at every jetty, ensuring all the necessary rules and regulations that have to be taken upon before a passenger or a boat driver embark on a journey is adhered to.

He said the rules include passengers using safety jackets before stepping into the boat, while no boat is allowed to take more than the number of passengers above the boat’s capacity.

“Most of the causes of the boat mishaps is that sometimes, the driver wants to collect money while driving, so, we make sure that before the boat moves from the jetty, the money must have been collected,” he added.

But the recent accident and The Guardian investigations have proved otherwise, as these safety standards are not enforced. According to The Guardian investigation, many boat operators don’t have life jackets, while passengers don’t adhere to wearing them, nor are they sanctioned for not using them by the authorities.

Even at the NIWA office jetty in Marina, The Guardian observed that some boat operators drop passengers without life jackets on, while the officers of NIWA look unconcerned without sanctioning the boat operators or passengers on the spot.

Also, the life jackets at the jetties are worn out. Journalists had some months ago drawn the attention of officials of NIWA to some boat operators that ferried passengers without life jackets to the Marina jetty, but they acted unaware even while they saw the boats.

Also, some private boat operators for tourism purposes don’t give their passengers life jackets, nor has NIWA sanctioned them as they have continued to operate with poor enforcement of safety standards.

Gbayisemore, who expressed worry about the development, said stringent measures should be implemented to enforce the mandatory use of life jackets by commuters on waterways, adding that this will significantly enhance safety and increase the chances of survival during an emergency.

Gbayisemore also urged the government to prioritise dredging and clearing of waterways to facilitate safe and unobstructed movement for commuters to reduce the risk of accidents. He said the government should also support boat operators and improve investment to develop a robust water transportation system.

Speaking to The Guardian, the General Secretary of the Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria, Haruna Omolajomo, expressed displeasure that the number of boat mishaps is increasing seriously on waterways.

He also pointed at the lack of dredging and clearing of waterways despite the government’s budgetary allocations every year, as factors responsible for boat mishaps.

Omolajomo, who is also the Chairman of the Membership Committee of the Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN), urged Federal Government to ensure the money allocated every year for dredging and clearing of waterways is used for the purpose it is meant for as it will go a long way to reduce mishaps on the nation’s waterways.

He said the hyacinths and other wrecks must be cleared to allow for visibility of the waterways to users. Omolajomo also lamented the lack of competent and acceptable regulators for monitoring and enforcement of maritime law to ensure effective Safety Operations Procedure (SOP), adding that there are many agencies on the ground only interested in the monetary aspects.

He added that some of the agencies trying to maintain safety are not proactive enough, noting that if no incident occurs, they are hardly seen doing their professional roles.

The Vice Chairman of Business Action Against Corruption (BAAC) Integrity Alliance, Lagos, Jonathan Nicol, said the agencies saddled with the responsibility of the waterways are not manned by professionals and are limited in experience to tackle issues leading to unsafe waterways.