Boat mishaps have continued to occur in the nation’s inland waterways on a regular basis leading to avoidable loss of lives, and damage to property and the marine environment. Whenever these incidents happen, the usual response from government agencies is to offer condolences with added promise that something will be done. Nothing happens and then we wait for another boat mishap.
Meanwhile, this state of affairs should not be so because, there are clear statutory provisions in the Nigeria Merchant Shipping Act 2007 and its subsidiary legislations for ensuring that, vessels operating in the inland waterways do so in a secure and environmentally safe manner.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized Agency of the United Nations (UN) is globally responsible for, maritime safety, security and the protection of the Marine Environment. This responsibility is discharged through the adoption of several conventions that cover its mandate. Member States of IMO of which Nigeria is one, are expected to transform the Conventions into national laws. In Nigeria, the body responsible for the implementation of these laws is the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). One of the drawbacks of the IMO Conventions is that they cover vessels engaged in international voyages, leaving out the other categories of vessels engaged in coastal navigation, rivers and lakes such as we have in Nigeria, for individual countries to set standards for. These categories are usually referred to as non-convention vessels.
Due to the disturbing rate of accidents involving non-convention vessels, especially passenger carriers in several parts of the developing countries, IMO became very concerned. In response, IMO developed the Model Safety Regulations for Inland Waterways Vessels and Non-Convention Craft Including Fishing Vessels, operating in Africa in January 2002 to assist African countries, to address the problems. These Model Safety Regulations were adopted at a Workshop in Mwanza, Tanzania, between 15 and 19 October 2001. The Model regulations took into account as appropriate, the spirit of the provisions of the IMO Conventions relating to safety, marine pollution, training, examination and certification of seafarers operating those vessels. African countries were encouraged to adapt these regulations to suit their peculiar circumstances.
Meanwhile, in keeping with its global approach, IMO went ahead to develop a new and improved set of regulations known as GlobalReg in 2009 with the same objectives.
The Nigerian Merchant Shipping Act 1962, which was repealed by the 2007 Act had copious regulations for inland waterways vessels such as tugboats, dumb and self-propelled barges, passenger boats, ferries and other crafts. These vessels are subject to annual surveys/inspections, including examination and certification of their crews. In the past, Safety Awareness Campaigns were organized by NIMASA in various States of the Federation, primarily aimed at enhancing the safe operation of small crafts. Unfortunately, the campaigns could not be sustained.
The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), on the other hand, is mandated to, ensure that inland waterways are safe for navigation. Measures to be taken in this regard include, dredging, survey and marking of navigable routes. NIWA should determine the location of jetties and produce relevant charts for the navigable waterways. Overall, the safety of non-Convention vessels, the machinery on board as well as the competence of the operators, are under the purview of the Maritime Safety Adminstration.
The rate and spate of boat mishaps eventually, led some State governments to establish Agencies to address the challenges. A case in point is the establishment of Lagos State Waterways Authority by Lagos State. Despite these interventions, boat mishaps still occur regularly as witnessed this year. Part of the reasons adduced for the accidents include; the operation of unsafe boats, inexperienced operators, overloading, lack of basic safety equipment, sailing at night without precaution and weak or absence of enforcement of safety regulations.
However, in order to have a holistic approach to combating the menace of boat mishaps in the country, there is need to have a holistic approach to the problem. One of the measures could be, organizing a meeting on Inland Waterways Safety Management involving relevant stakeholders such as the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, NIMASA, NIWA, State and Local Governments, Boat Operators and other interested stakeholders to address the problems.
Some of the issues the meeting should deliberate on will include but not be limited to the following;
· Updating of existing regulations
· Delineation of routes
• Standard Jetties
• Boat Standards
• Safety Equipment
• Competence of Operators
• Mapping of Routes
• Production of Charts for the navigable waterways
• Training of Safety Marshals
• Inspection and Certification of boats
• Communication equipment
• Search and Rescue infrastructure and training
• Awareness Campaign
• Delegation of functions
It will be desirable for the meeting to come up with a Plan of Action that will have realistic and practicable timelines. Addressing these issues will ensure the safety of inland waterways and will in addition provide a good platform for the generation of employment opportunities for the teaming population of youths in the country.
*Captain Adegboyega Olopoenia is a Master Mariner and former Director with NIMASA