In recent times, many Nigerians have lost their lives as a result of the incessant boat mishaps in Lagos and other parts of the country.
These hapless Nigerians who make use of water transportation were probably trying to avoid traffic gridlocks, which have become the new normal on most of the nation’s roads.
Water transport mishaps occur almost every month and the numbers keep rising. In the last one month, Lagos waters recorded five accidents and some other cases in other parts of the country like Benue, Plateau and other states. Some of these accidents are said to be avoidable if the boat owners and drivers usually obey safety measues laid down by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
And some of the factors responsible for the accidents include outdated live-jackets, mechanical faults, over-speeding, over-loading, bad weather, wrecks, rickety boats and vessels, drunkeness and untrained operators , among others.
In addition, some private owners of jetties have also been blamed for the increase in accidents on 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, NIWA is commencing recertification process of boats and vessels to ensure they are fit and sea worth as part of efforts to safeguard lives on the waters. At a stakeholders meeting recently in Lagos, the Managing Director of NIWA, Dr George Moghalu, said that NIWA would commence a new regime of random checks on the waterways to ensure that all boat operators and watercrafts are certified by the agency to ensure that all safety protocols are adhered to.
According to him, all NIWA protocols must be observed by all stakeholders, and that NIWA police would now be engaging in random checks, chasing, impounding and sometimes destruction of any boat found wanting.
He also said NIWA would now have to train and certify any operator that wants to ride any craft on the nation’s inland waterways. He observed that a good percentage of the boat accidents is as a result of refusal to obey laid down NIWA protocols.
He said most of the times accidents occur, it is either live jackets are not worn, vessels are not certified, boat operators not qualified, a case of over-speeding, a case of using wrong boats and so on. He added that the accidents have something to do with operational methodology and character.
“No NIWA jetty would allow boats to move after 6.30pm. We are going to prosecute once there is any infringement on any of these protocols, vessels would be impounded and even destroyed if found not to be sea worthy,” he added.
The NIWA boss blamed activities of private owners of jetties for the increased accidents on inland waterways.
“We are now going to drastically enforce these safety protocols. We are going to move to recertify all vessels, no matter how small or how big, as far as it operates on our inland waters. There is going to be training of captains, no captain would be allowed to operate if he is not certified by NIWA.
“We are going to start impounding vessels now especially those that are not sea worthy or certified by NIWA, we are going to kick-start a regime of random checks, dont be surprised to see our police on water chasing and impounding vessels.”
On wreck removal, he promised that the agency will continue with the work of removing wrecks, saying that stakeholders will be engaged as much as possible to help in removing the wrecks.
Speaking with reporters, the President of the Association of Boat Owners and Operators, Tarzan Balogun, expressed confidence that with the decisions taken by the agency, the waterways would be safer.
He said there was a need to enforce rules established to ensure that waterways were safe as lack of enforcement would make people do whatever they like and flout the rules at will.