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Lax enforcement of safety measures breeding deaths on Lagos waterways

By Gbenga Salau and Azeez Olorunlomeru
24 July 2022   |   2:48 am
Between July 6 and 8, a total of 18 persons lost their lives in two boat mishaps in Ikorodu and Mile 2 areas of Lagos State.

Lagos Waterways boat

Between July 6 and 8, a total of 18 persons lost their lives in two boat mishaps in Ikorodu and Mile 2 areas of Lagos State.

  
While the state government has ordered a probe of the last incident where at least 16 persons died, a preliminary investigation by the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) revealed that most of the passengers were commuting without lifejackets.
   
A statement by LASWA on the July 8 incident, said: “At about 7.45 pm on the 8th of July 2022, The Lagos State Waterways Authority and National Inland Waterways Authority received a distress call of an incident on the waterways. A W19 passenger fibre boat carrying 16 people capsized along the Ojo area of the state.
 
“The boat going from Mile 2 to Ibeshe in Ojo axis broke the waterways rules of late travelling by setting sail at 7 pm. As it set out, the tide of the water drifted the boat to a stationary barge, which caused the boat to overturn. It is said that all passengers on board, which include children were not all putting on their life jackets.”
  
In an earlier statement by LASWA’s on the July 6 mishap, the regulatory body said: “A 20-passenger ferry boat carrying 17 passengers named “R & N 2” suddenly capsized not more than 200 meters from the terminal and submerged immediately after it departed the Ipakodo Ferry Terminal, in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State 
  
“The water guards and the search and rescue team of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) were mobilised to the scene of the incident, leading to the rescue of 15 persons alive.
  
“While two female unconscious passengers were rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment. They were, however, later confirmed dead at the hospital.
  
“The boat captain is currently being investigated by the relevant authorities, while a full investigation into the cause of this mishap is ongoing as of the time of this press release.”
  
The result of the investigation by LASWA on the July 6 accident was yet to be out when another boat capsized leading to the death of 16 people on July 8.
 
However, after LASWA found out that the affected passengers in the July 8 boat mishap were without lifejackets, even as the operator broke the late-night travel rule, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, ordered a comprehensive probe of the incident. 
 
In a statement, Sanwo-Olu, who expressed sadness over the incident, commiserated with the families who lost their loved ones. 
  
The statement added: “The police are probing what went wrong and treating the said incident as criminal. The boat, which is said to be unlicensed, obviously broke the waterways rules of ‘no night travel,’ and no overloading. Besides, not all of the passengers wore life jackets and the boat did not take off from a government-approved jetty. 
 
“The Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), and others are assisting the investigators,” the statement added.
  
Sanwo-Olu maintained that anybody found to have contributed in any way to the tragedy would surely face the wrath of the law to ensure that they do not have any such incidents in the future. 
 
“The waterways’ rules and regulations are clear; they must be respected in accordance with the greatest value that the Sanwo-Olu administration places on human life.
 
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families. May the Almighty strengthen them in these difficult times,” Sanwo-Olu stated.
 
Although the state government and the appropriate agency claimed that only 16 persons died in the latest mishap, an investigation by The Guardian revealed that 22 people died in the incident. 
  
This means that the boat operator, apart from violating the non-late night trip order, also had his boat overloaded, thereby breaching extant safety rules and regulations guiding waterways’ operations in the state. 
  
With the Lagos traffic situation making vehicular movement cumbersome in most parts of the state and leading to the loss of several man-hours in transit, water transportation is increasingly becoming popular among residents of the state. 
    
Viewed by many as a reasonably safe, fast, and stress-free means of commuting, how operators have thrown safety measures overboard, and the consequent loss of lives is now a major cause for concern. 
  
The Guardian’s visit to some jetties in the state showed a decline in lifejacket usage, as well as adherence to international best practices as far as water transportation is concerned.  
  
Where the lifejackets are on offer, they are largely worn-out ones, while some operators display decent ones for sale.
  
In Badore, which is one of the most patronised jetties in the Lekki Ajah axis, The Guardian observed that hordes of passengers trooped into the only boat that anchored at the jetty, with little attention to the number of passengers on board. 
 
One of the passengers, Mr Akin Oshinyomi, alleged that the government has done a very poor job of monitoring the activities of private boat operators.
  
“For instance, operators increase their fares at will without recourse to the plight of the commuters. There is also the stark failure to enforce the use of life jackets,” he said.
  
Similarly, at the Tarzan jetty, The Guardian found out that many commuters usually made use of their lifejackets due to the poor condition of the ones provided by boat operators.
  
Another passenger, Blessing Ogbonnya, regretted that boat operators and regulators were treating the issue of lifejackets with kid gloves even after many passengers have lost their lives in the past. 
   
Be that as it may, the Ovori of Ibeshe, Oba Alani Gausu, who is the traditional ruler of the community where the majority of victims of the July 8, 2022 boat mishap hailed from, also lamented the lax enforcement of safety rules and regulations on the waterways.
  
Speaking on the incident when a delegation from the Lagos Area Office of NIWA visited him, Gausu, blamed lack of training and human error for the harvest of deaths recorded by the Sumola Aniajogun family of Ibeshe.
 
He, therefore, urged the regulators to ensure continuous training for boat operators to ensure a non-repeat of such avoidable deaths.
 
He said: “The boat tragedy that resulted in the death of 17 passengers last Friday boils down to human error.
 
“The boat driver failed to do what he ought to have done before loading passengers on the boat and pushing the boat into the water. How can a boat driver load passengers on a boat, and push the boat into the water before checking if he has the correct mixture of engine oil in the boat’s engine?
 
“Due to this error from the boat driver, the tide pushed the fully loaded boat underneath a barge, and the entire passengers, including the boat driver, drowned. It all boils down to a lack of training for boat drivers. Many of them are not educated. Many of them operate under the influence of drugs. It is important that NIWA, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), and other stakeholders provide training for boat skippers.
 
“If boat skippers are well trained, the scenario where drivers operate outside the 6:30 am to 6:30 pm stipulated time won’t occur. The ill-fated boat that sank was carrying passengers beyond its capacity. The boat was overloaded and was operating outside the time for safe navigation.
 
“So, we need more training for boat drivers to ensure that there is no repeat of incidents like this,” the monarch said.
  
Also commenting on the incident at the monarch’s palace, the Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Sarat Braimah, assured the monarch of an increased patrol of the waterways to forestall future occurrences of such tragedies.
  
She said: “The jetty that the ill-fated boat departed had been shut down from June 2021 till December. Policemen were positioned there to stop the usage of that jetty. How they used the jetty illegally without being caught still baffles me.
  
“Now, we will be increasing patrol and taking the training of boat drivers to riverine communities.”
  
Ironically, despite NIWA’s claim that the jetty where the boat took off from was an illegal one that had been shut down and the unfortunate incident, boat operators still moved passengers the following day and at press time. 
  
Commenting on the Ikorodu mishap, the General Manager of LASWA, Mr. Oluwadamilola Emmanuel said that apart from visiting the families of the deceased, the operator has been mandated to provide the boat captain to assist the authority in the investigation after which the case would be forwarded to the marine police for the conclusion.
  
Asked why boats were still taking off from the alleged illegal Mazamaza/Mile2 jetty, Emmanuel claimed that the boat did not take off from the said terminal, but from the Mazamaza landing, which is not a LASWA approved, or designated jetty. 
  
On challenges faced by LASWA in enforcing rules and regulations on Lagos waterways, he said the Lagos Inland Waterways has a host of stakeholders ranging from dredgers, tug boat and barge operators, sand miners, fishermen, loggers, tourists/fun seekers, and shipping vessels. 
 
“All of these stakeholders are being managed by different ministries, both from the state and at the federal level, and as such, we sometimes have overlapping guidelines. The ferry network is majorly operated by informal boats, with no formal competencies/medium educational background,” he said. 
 
Emmanuel added that: “A lot of the passengers still suffer from hydrophobia, which comes to play majorly during incidents.

Also, unapproved sites/jetties are also springing up along the inland waterways without due approval, or are not being built to standard.”
 
While stressing that unapproved landing sites/ jetties without necessary permit or documentation would be shut down, he explained that “the list of approved jetties with LASWA oversight would soon be published, while we continue to promote the use of life jackets and sensitise waterways stakeholders on its use on the inland waterways.”
  
For the state Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso, safety on waterways was more than wearing a lifejacket, even though every passenger is mandated to wear a lifejacket before boarding any boat.
  
Omotoso, who recalled that the state government recently distributed lifejackets at Ibese jetty for the safety of Lagosians, added that government will continue to sensitise private boat operators on the need for them to obey, and follow all safety rules and regulations.