For long, free movement of vessels on the nation's territorial waters has been hampered by dangerous wrecks and other unwanted materials that litter the channels whose removal is suffering setbacks as key maritime agencies compete for the same function.
A close look at the Mile 2, Lagos waterfront reveals the presence of carcasses of boats and canoes jutting up to the water level along the waterway, especially around the long-neglected passenger jetty belonging to the Lagos State Inland Waterways Authority (LASWA). Down the line through Kirikiri jetty up to the Liverpool end of the lagoon is the same story: a sorry sight of disused sea-going vessels and crafts abandoned in the channel. Along the shores overlooking the popular ‘Monkey Village’ off Snake Island which houses Nigerdock, the wrecks litter both banks of the channels, in most cases, dangerously jutting into the part of the channel through which big vessels access the ports at Tin Can Island and PTML. Across Bullnose jetty in Apapa Port of Lagos up to the Fairway Buoy also lie a number of these disused crafts of various sizes rotting, tilting and floating on the water for years. Quite a number of them have become submerged in water, thus posing even greater danger to ships coming into the harbour.
To a large extent, past efforts by government to remove the wrecks remained ineffectual as the key maritime agencies jostled to take on the responsibility.
As industry watchers have come to believe, if this overlap of functions is not addressed and streamlined, the waterways will, before long, become flooded with derelicts and other hazardous crafts which render the water channels dangerous for navigation.
Dr. Dakuku Peterside, NIMASA DG
NIMASA’s Recent Wreck Removal Efforts
In a recent directive, NIMASA warned owners of abandoned vessels to urgently remove them. In fact, the agency gave a 21-day ultimatum for the owners of the ships to comply with the directive or face sanctions. These sanctions range from forfeiture of such vessels to letting the agency remove them at the owner’s expense.
Dismissing doubts as to whether the agency qualifies to remove such wrecks on the waterways, the director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, in a recent directive said: “In line with our mandate on the protection of the marine environment and safety of navigation within Nigerian waters and our powers as receiver of wrecks, owners of all abandoned ships, vessels and derelicts are sternly warned to seek removal plan permits from the agency and ensure the removal of these wrecks and derelicts from our waters on or before April 28, 2017, failure of which would attract appropriate sanctions".
The NIMASA boss also reeled out the sanctions to include removal of such wrecks at the owner's expense as well as forfeiture of the vessels. According to him, the agency is empowered to do so in line with the powers vested in it by the Merchant Shipping Act 2007 and other enabling statutes as well as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) instruments. Nigeria is a signatory to the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks (Nairobi 2007). The Convention is a treaty of the IMO serving the purpose of prompt and effective removal of shipwrecks located in the Parties’ territorial waters including its Exclusive Economic Zone that may be hazardous to navigation or the environment. The Convention gives states authority to remove wrecks. In Nigeria’s case, NIMASA is the receiver of wrecks.
Setting Up a Committee without Results
In 2011, the federal government directed an inter-ministerial committee to work out modalities for the removal of wrecks and derelicts from Lagos waters. The committee on wreck removal had Mr. Bola Olowo Sejeje as secretary with other members cutting across Lagos State Government, Nigerian Navy, ISAN, NIMASA and the Ministries of Justice and Environment. Through the transport ministry, the federal government had promised Nigerians that the issue of derelicts and shipwrecks would be resolved. The joint committee was charged to identify the owners of all abandoned vessels and shipwrecks.
In a meeting with representatives of the Lagos State Government and the Federal Ministry of Justice, then Minister of Transport, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, said the committee’s assignment was to come up with the cost implication and a time frame for the removal of the wrecks. Suleiman said there were over 100 wrecks and derelicts in Lagos and urged NPA and NIMASA to give a clear report on the critical issue and the need for beached ships to be removed.
But between that period till date, no progress has been made and no report issued as the wreck continue to litter the shoreline.
The committee has not really proffered the much needed relief to Lagosians in affected communities with high number of wrecks.
NPA Out-Muscling NIMASA on Wreck Removal
In recent times, NIMASA has been seen as the most concerned about wrecks and the need to remove them. But apparently determined to live up to its responsibilities, the NPA appears to be more pragmatic in its operations.
Despite the concern by NIMASA, the NPA seems to take the shine off the apex regulatory agency by removing over 100 wrecks on Lagos channel alone. It is a matter of being proactive, stakeholders say.
Hadiza Usman, NPA MD
As stated recently by the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, at the commissioning of four new tugboats by the agency, the removal of wrecks on the channel has resulted to safer navigation for ships. She added that with the new tugboats in place, NPA will continue to deliver on efficient port services.
Usman disclosed that in partnership with Lagos Channel Management, a Joint Venture Management Company, over 100 ship wrecks have been removed from the Lagos corridor.
NIWA’s Fight against Water Hyacinth
Even though water hyacinth is not a physical wreck, the nuisance it constitutes on the waterways also impedes navigation. In areas where she has statutory supervisory responsibility, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) also clears this stubborn weed.
Mr. Boss Mustapha, MD NIWA
Following the seasonal menace of the weed on waterways, NIWA and the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) recently concluded plans to ensure the it no longer impedes safe navigation of boats on the Lagos inland waterways.
At a joint stakeholders’ meeting with members of the Association of Tourists Boats and Water Transportation of Nigeria (ATBOWATON) in Ikoyi, Lagos, NIWA Lagos Area Manager, Mr. Muazu Sambo, disclosed that water hyacinth is a critical problem in the course of the agency’s operations. He disclosed that the agency had acquired equipments to clear it on a permanent basis. “We have acquired equipments to clear water hyacinth and we will deploy them for the purpose,” Sambo said.
Engr. Abisola Kamsom, LASWA MD
Speaking in the same vein, the Managing Director of LASWA, Engr. Abisola Kamson, said the state government had also acquired equipment meant for the purpose of clearing water hyacinths.
While expressing confidence that the effort would help ease some of the operational challenges to the boat operators, she appealed to members of the public to also desist from littering the waters with all manner of waste.
Business and Maritime West Africa has confirmed the presence of critical wrecks scattered in the riverine areas of Ojo down to the Lekki and Epe axis.
A cruise through the brown waterways in communities like Mile 2, Oke Afa, Marina, Ibafon, Epe, Lekki, etc tells the same story.
Wrecks Blocking the waterways
In Ilado, a fishing community in Badagry, Lagos, the major problem the people face is abandoned vessels. According to Mr. Seyi Agbato, a teacher in one of the local schools, “there is a cumulative effect whereby sand accumulation by one ship adds to the other, resulting in the incursion of water as the wrecked ships are very close to each other”.
The presence of abandoned vessels on the Lagos waters has resulted in the erosion of choice beach lands, including coastal plants such as coconut trees on the beaches. Lagos loses billions of naira to this erosion accelerated by shipwrecks and abandoned vessels. Strong waves can wash away over one metre of land within 24 hours.
Inside sources from NIMASA say that some vessels come into the waters without the knowledge of the agency and the Nigerian Navy. In effect, owners of such vessels do not observe international best practices.
Being a littoral state with three major ports, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, has attracted more vessels than any other port in the sub-region. The area also accounts for the greater number of abandoned crafts that block the waterways and impede navigation along the corridor. Weak laws which create unnecessary overlap in functions, difficulties with vessel owners, limited jurisdictions and lack of funds, it was learnt, hamper efforts to remove them.