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Anxiety, fear as substandard boats, life jackets threaten marine transportation – VELOXNEWS

By Steve Agbota, [email protected] 

Recuring incidence of death on Nigerian waterways appears to be setting tranquility of residents in nation’s marine communities on edge with their main mode of transportation now becoming an endangered species as  a result of the incessant boat mishaps in Lagos and other parts of the country.

Majority of Nigerians who make use of water transportation do so probably to avoid traffic gridlocks on the nation’s busy roads besided those living in the riverine communities.

These riverine communities are islands where there are no roads to move around. The only means of moving from one location to another is through water transport.

Aside, those living on the riverine areas who naturally depend on water economy as a means of livelihood, majority also travel several  kilometers by means of water transpotation everyday to earn a living.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, many people have lost their lives to water transport related mishaps. For instance, the Lagos waterways recorded two accidents in a space of three days in the month of July 2022.

While one happened at Ikorodu area of the state, the second occurred at Mile 2,  where 19 members of the same  family perished on the eve of Sallah celebrations.

Some of these accidents are said to be avoidable if boat owners and drivers had obeyed safety measures laid down by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).

Some of the factors responsible for the accidents include the use of outdated live-jackets, mechanical faults, over-speeding, over-loading, bad weather, wrecks, rickety boats and vessels, drunkeness and untrained operators among others.

Daily Sun learnt that most of the youth engaged in boat operations as drivers operate under influence of alcohol and other narcotic drugs, which usually lead to boat accidents when they are sailing.

This was confirmed by some of the community leaders in the riverine communities even as they said some of the boys are illiterate, very stubborn and don’t want to comply with the safety rules.

In addition, some private owners of jetties have also been blamed for the increase in accidents on the inland waterways by allowing boats to embark on night sailings, which is always dangerous because some of the boats or vessels are not designed for night navigation.

To ensure safety of the inland waterways, Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Sarat Braimah, warned boat riders, passengers, jetty owners and community leaders not to  embark on night trips  as soem of the boat do not have facilities such as light and puddle to sail at night.

She added that NIWA was going ahead to enforce the Waterways Safety Code recently gazetted by the Federal Ministry of Justice, even as she also warned that violators of the code would be prosecuted and jailed.

According to her, the Safety Code is to curb recurring boat accidents and lost of lives of Nigerians.

However, she highlighted the offenses under the new code, to include; night sailing beyond 7pm, boat drivers license violation, driving boats without paddles, driving unregistered boats, dangerous driving and over-speeding, driving rickety and leaking boat, driving unnamed boats.

Others, she said are; driving without standard life jackets, passengers manifest violation, fire extinguisher violation, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fighting at jetty, obstructing task force on duty as well as overloading violation.

Braimah said the Federal Government does not want the recurring boat accidents and its attendant loss of lives on the nation’s waterways and hopes to curb the menace with the new code. She assured that NIWA was  geared up for enforcement of the regulations and prosecution.

“Before we start arresting and prosecuting violators, it is better we come first and sensitize your people, community heads should please partner with us by ensuring that any boat without name or registration is not allowed to operate at the jetty

“We must ensure that boats are not overloaded, any boat arrested for overloading, the owners of the jetty, the community leaders would also be arrested, and it is seven years in prison. Please, by the time enforcement starts, nobody should come and start begging me”

“The last accident was heart breaking, 17 people from one family lost their lives in one day, if the affected boat was carrying a paddle, the accident would have been averted because they would paddle themselves to safety” she said.

Sarat also assured that NIWA is embarking on a mission to rid the waterways of fake life jackets. She assured that by next week, NIWA officials would be at all jetties to impound fake life jackets and destroy them openly.

The Baale Anthony Avime, Sagbo Koji; Baale Houeto Bernard, Whla Koji and Baale Sohome Bishop Koji however stated that their indigenes are very stubborn people and they do not like to conform with safety rules on sailing.

“Our people are stubborn, they don’t want to wear life jackets, we in our various villages have put laws and regulations in place guiding sailing, the people would always flout the rules, including the visitors in our town”

“We want to implore NIWA to use force, and to send uniformed men to these jetties so that they would comply” they said

The villagers also advised that the NIWA taskforce officials stationed at various jetties should always be rotated every week in order to avoid them being compromised. They also requested regular patrols by NIWA.

At Irede and Ikaare communities, the women complained that, the reason why they often refuse to use life jackets is because most of them are dirty and smelling.

Also speaking, the Ovori of Ibeshe land, Oba Gausu Alani Razak called on NIWA to improve the standard of boats plying the waterways.

According to him, if the boats can be changed to bigger and stronger ones, it would solve most of the accidents on the waterways.

“One major issue causing boat mishap is human error, because if we take to all the safety rules, we might not be experiencing  all these mishaps because not everyone is used to the water and these are what is causing havoc and to put stop to this, it will be a joint effort.

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