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More residents will use water transport if safe, cheap

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Adenusi

A transport safety expert and Director, Safety Beyond Borders, Mr. Patrick Adenusi, in this interview with GBENGA SALAU, spoke on how to ensure safety in water transportation in Lagos State, among other issues.

Why is patronage for water transportation extremely low among Lagos residents?
THE awareness about water transport is not as pronounced as road transport. The few incidences that had happened on the water are usually blown out of proportion, though the loss of one life is a loss too many. The negative attention paid to an accident is much more than awareness paid to water transport in Lagos.

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Last week, for about four hours, I was at Marina Jetty. Surprisingly, about 75 per cent of those that joined the boats, boarded and alighted unsafely. What do I mean? A lot of them were given lifejackets before they boarded, but they rarely strapped it before boarding, except those who boarded with an operator. The lifejackets were given to the passengers, but they were not instructed to strap it before going into the boat. So, the majority just hung the jacket on their necks without properly strapping it before going onboard.

When passengers were alighting, they were supposed to have their lifejackets on. But before the boats got to the jetty, half of the passengers had removed their lifejackets. And I told some of the passengers that they should not board except they had the lifejacket on properly.

So, the government needs monitors supervising that process on the need to use lifejackets properly. This will help to build the confidence of residents in Lagos, as there would be minimal fatality when there are accidents. More residents will use water transport especially if it is safer and cheaper, which would reduce the pressure on Lagos roads.

Also, efforts should be made for all safety protocols to be followed and where anyone is erring, there should be sanctions. We should also have it in the news about positive events on water transport. Issues like the number of passengers moved in a week or month. So, with more positive news about water transport, it would boost the confidence of the residents to commute by water.

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On the other hand, anytime there is any mishap in Lagos, the media houses feast on the story. But very few talk about the successes recorded in the sector. Road and air accidents normally happen, but people still move by those means of transport, they still use the road and fly with planes and helicopters. So, the negativity of water transport is more highlighted than the positives. More positive stories can help to harness and improve the opportunities in the sector.

To improve the safety protocols, just like on aircraft, the passengers should be told safety procedures, when there are accidents. Before any passenger boards or immediately after boarding, they should be addressed on safety.

Safety does not have two ways; you strap your jacket. In most of the mishaps that had happened, there actually should not have been fatalities if the passengers had their lifejackets strapped properly. Immediately they fall into the water, if they do not have the lifejacket strapped properly, the jacket flies off and they are separated, which makes the passenger gets drowned almost immediately. So, we must insist that the lifejacket must be strapped properly before boarding and until the passengers alight.

From some of the accidents recorded, regulatory failure seems obvious when the cause of the fatality is mentioned?
In terms of laws, commissions, and agencies of governments, we have them. It is the efficiency that is the issue. There are people who are paid to carry out these exercises, but they are not working. When these incidents happen, were those guys who failed in their responsibility sanctioned? Somebody has failed to do what he is paid to do. That is why things go wrong. In the West, if a boat capsizes, some people will be penalised for failing to take action that could prevent an accident or reduce causality number. Some will even resign because they feel they have failed to do their jobs. But here, people are paid but they just carry their shoulders all around and do not work.

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The awareness of the emergency number is also still very poor among residents. With many not knowing the emergency number, how would they get or call for help? So, we need more campaigns on that too and that the emergency number is toll-free. Also, responders need to do more. I have called the number sometimes when there was an incident in Ogudu; the response time was not too good. So, we need more skillful people or retrain those at the call centre so that they will be able to respond in the right way when any distress call comes in.

Also, the Marine Police should be able to ensure that no boat is overloaded. This is because when evening falls, the boats are overloaded. I watched things in Marina and one of the local boats was loading fish, about 15 cartons. Then another woman came with the grinding stone, cast concrete and took eight of the cast concrete on board and they still had full passengers on the boat. The boat is already overloaded. If we have a monitoring agent there or the Marine Police, they should have ensured that does not happen. So, the regulators need to function much more than just knowing that they exist. We are not seeing them working.

Is the caveat that boats should not operate beyond 7 pm not hampering water transportation?
Even on the roads, we do not have proper lighting. So, if the navigational guides that should be on the water are not there, nobody should take the risk of going to Ikorodu from Lagos Island by 7 pm. It is a risk not worth taking except when we have a shorter day and they move by 5 pm. Even before they get to Ikorodu, it will be getting dark, but they would have covered three-quarters of the journey.

During the day, when an incident happens, emergency response is not top-notch. What would now be the case at late night, help is probably not going to come. The operators should be told that the maximum movement time from any of the jetties and terminals should be 6 pm when there is a long day. When we have a long night, it should be 5:30 pm maximum. That should be the work of the regulators. And it should not be fixed at 6 pm all year round; it should be flexible based on the prevailing situation of a day.

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