• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Nigeria’s water transport under threat over poor safety, regulatory lapses

Nigeria’s water transport under threat over poor safety, regulatory lapses

By Amaka Anagor-Ewuzie and Mercy Enoch

Water transport in Nigeria is becoming extremely dangerous. The growing number of accidents and loss of lives on the nation’s inland waters attest to the sector’s poor adoption of safety measures and regulatory lapses. This trend has become worrisome as Africa’s most populous nation struggles with finding an alternative to road transport.

Death toll on the nation’s inland waters caused by incessant boat mishaps has become a source of concern to many Nigerians with over 300 lives lost to boat accidents across the country in 2023.

Barely four months into the year, Nigeria has witnessed several accidents in Anambra, Rivers, Delta, and Lagos States. The boat accidents have claimed many lives including the recent fatal accident on River Niger that claimed the life of Junior Pope, a popular Nollywood star, and other film crew.

Read also: Caverton Marine: Promoting water transport using Nigeria-made passenger ferries

Industry analysts blamed these mishaps on regulatory lapses, poor implementation of safety standards, and human errors such as overloading, non-usage of life jackets, overspeeding, faulty engines, non-retirement of weak boats and night sailing.

The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), the national body responsible for enforcing safety standards on inland water, and their counterparts at the state level have been receiving backlash for their negligence and failure to protect the lives of Nigerians commuting on water.

Warredi Enisuoh, a captain and maritime expert, blamed poor enforcement regime, incompetence on the part of authorities, and lack of the right people in the right places for the underdeveloped state of Nigeria’s water transport.

According to him, Nigeria has over 3,400km of inland waterway network and less than half of it is charted, which poses a serious threat to safety navigation.

“Navigation in the River Niger was restricted to 6:00 am to 6:00 pm due to security reasons. There is a need for a Radar System at a strategic location which will not only improve security but enhance the revenue base of regulator authorities to ensure accountability on the commercial use of the waterways,” Enisuoh said during an online conversation on HarboursandPorts Platform.

Ahmad Wanka, another maritime expert, said NIWA, which owns and regulates the waterways, is very ineffective as a regulator of the Inland waterway in his view.

Chris Obiora, an Asaba-based educator, told BusinessDay that the water transport system in Nigeria has remained very poor due to unsafe practices among users.

Pointing out that if adequate measures are put in place, water transport remains one of the fastest, said the government can encourage the production of locally made lifejackets to make it affordable.

He frowned at the authorities’ inability to curb the recklessness of boat operators and for conveying people without lifejackets.

Eugene Nweke, a freight forwarder, said there is an urgent need to unbundle NIWA for development and economic relevance.

Many small-scale boat operators in the coastal states are poorly regulated by the authorities, which is evident in the standard of boats they use and lack of adherence to safety measures including using life jackets and avoiding night sailing.

Kelvin Atano, managing director of JK Science Tech Innovative Company Limited, Warri, Delta State, blamed lawlessness and disregard for safety rules for boat mishaps in Nigeria.

Read also:  Navy decries upsurge in stowaways in Lagos waters

He blamed negligence and non-enforcement of safety measures by drivers or boat owners, and even the enforcers for accidents.

He called on the authorities to be more serious in their job, earn respect by protecting lives and helping to deter passengers from being lawless.

Giving insight on the importance of using life jackets, Babatope Fajemirokun, a boat operator, said small boat operators in Nigeria are not well regulated and they usually work with faulty engines that always break down in the middle of the sea.

“When the engines go off and the waves will be closing in on you in the middle of the rough sea, the boat driver who is well experienced will survive when the accident happens while passengers will probably get swallowed in the water,” he explained.

Fajemirokun said life jackets may seem like a joke but are the only chance of survival in the sea.

He said is also important to ensure one wears the life jacket properly because people can also drown if they do not wear the life jacket well during a boat accident.

“Safety first and always; use a life jacket at all times and if there’s no life jacket, do not board that boat. This is the minimum required safety gear for boarding an open boat. Also, people have to make sure they wear their life jackets the right way before sailing on a boat,” Fajemirokun said.

According to him, the best time to travel by sea is in the morning between 6 am and 11 am because, from noon down, the waves will increase resulting in rough sea conditions.

While Nigerians attribute deaths on the waterway to the ineffectiveness of the regulatory bodies, NIWA has continued to pass the ball due to insufficient funding.

Experts, however, believe that funding is not a tenable excuse for the fatalities on the waterways as more proactive inland waterway authorities can generate funds to better manage water transport.

Enisuoh said the amount of crude oil that is carried on barges on inland water alone is enough for competent enforcement bodies to generate enough income to fund themselves.

Read also: FG to sanction ships flouting Sulphur regulations on Nigerian waters

At the state level, some inland water authorities seem to have started taking enforcement regimes seriously.

For instance, the Delta State Government after the fatal accident that claimed the lives of Nollywood stars, prohibited people from embarking on journeys on its water without using life jackets.

In Lagos, the Lagos State Waterways Authority is also enforcing the use of life jackets even though several people still sail on open boats without using life jackets.

Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, general manager of LASWA, said the state has given a facelift to its jetties by equipping them with floating pontoons designed for passengers’ safety and long-lens cameras to monitor activities in real-time.