Boat Accidents: Mariners want passengers, operators to take more safety responsibility
The recent almost weekly boat accidents claiming as many lives as 17 in one case, have beamed the light of responsibility on the passengers themselves as well as the operators.
It would be recalled that a boat accident on July 6, claimed two lives, while 15 others were rescued. The accident happened in the Ikorodu area of Lagos.
Two days after that boat accident, another accident happened, claiming the lives of 17 occupants of the boat. The boat was headed for Ibeshe from the Mile 2 area of the state.
The National Inland Waterways Authorities (NIWA) said the boat operated past the stipulated time allowed for boats to ply the waterways; it was reported to have left the jetty at about 7.45pm, when it was already dark.
NIWA also disclosed in a news briefing that the boat took off from a Jetty that had been shut down by the authorities due to certification issues.
The Authorities at NIWA said that the joint committee on barge operations, which includes NIWA, the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had closed down the jetty and also stationed Police officers there for about six months to prevent boat operations.
“We have been monitoring the boats operators and they have not been operating. When I heard about the incident, I called the owner of the jetty asking why a boat loaded from his jetty and he said he was not aware. Those people went there to load illegally,” the NIWA Lagos Area Manager, Sarat Braimah, said.
Speaking on the need for safety awareness and responsibilities, Captain Tajudeen Alao, President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, blamed operators for flouting the rules of operation when it comes to observing safety.
The master mariner also charged passengers using the inland waterways transportation means to be safety-conscious and reject actions that could jeopardize their safety.
He argued that “The agencies set up for the purpose of ensuring safety on our waterways have made the rules of operation clear. They have put in place structure for checks. But we cannot be blaming them all the time, because safety must be everyone’s concern.”
He, however, added that the authorities would do well to begin prosecution of operators found wanting in observing safety rules.
“They have been monitoring and campaigning for years. But the only thing they have not done is prosecution. When they prosecute, there should also be publicity with it to enable the people learn,”Alao said.
While charging prospective passenger to be safety-conscious and reject obvious actions that could lead to accidents, the mariner also blamed the Union where the operator of the ill-fated boat loaded, saying it should have taken responsibility to ensure that operators complied with safety guidelines.
For the master mariner, the human errors as a result of obvious non-adherence to set rules can be addressed if and when all stakeholders including community leaders insist on operators abiding with the safety rules.
“We have been doing national campaign, coastal campaign. The local government, the chiefs should have a hold on the commuters to stop their bad practices.
“Enforcement officers would close and go home, but the operators are working until 10 pm and the commuters too are patronizing, the local government, the community heads in those areas should be concerned. They should work with the media to enlighten the people on this danger of water transport when it is late.”
Community leaders in Ibeshe had also expressed fears and concerns about the recklessness of a number of the boat operators in the course of their operations.
Among their concerns are over-loading of the boats, use of indiscriminate use of illegal substances, underage operators and use of boats not approved for passenger transportation.
The community wants the regulatory agencies, boat operators’ associations, Lagos State Government and other stakeholders to synergize in addressing the issue of boat accidents in riverine areas to avoid further loss of human lives and property.
In her contribution, the Head of Marine at NIWA, Mrs. Elsie Egwuatu, charged boat operators and passengers on the importance and need to be safety-conscious.
She said: “Boat operators must keep to safety rules and regulations, such as no night traveling, and no over-loading. On the part of the passengers, they should ensure that the operators keep to safety rules and regulations. When they board boats, they should demand for life jackets and that the captain of the boat does not carry beyond its capacity and not travel at night.
“The incidents have happened, but we are working on ensuring that there is no re-occurrence and to make water transport a safe mode of transportation.”