In Nigeria’s coastal region, various wrecks have constituted a hindrance to free movement of vessels on the waterways. In this report, TOLA ADENUBI looks at the incidence of these shipwrecks.
THE United Nations (UN) estimates that there are more than three million shipwrecks on the ocean floor globally. Nigeria’s Lagos is one of the major cities with many shipwrecks on their seabed.
Although successive governments have frowned at the presence of these wrecks and vowed to remove them from the nation’s seas, investigations have shown that the number of wrecks has been on the rise in recent times.
With over 100 shipwrecks abandoned on Nigeria’s coastline and about 50 of them littering the Lagos waters, navigating Nigeria’s waterways has become a herculean task for unsuspecting vessel operators. Findings show that there are various reasons for this development.
The Managing Director, Delta Marine Shipping Company Limited, Uba Basil, told Saturday Tribune exclusively that lack of understanding of the shipping business, among other things, has led to wrecks littering the nation’s waterways.
According to Basil, “there are several reasons why wrecks will remain in Nigeria’s coastal waterways. The first reason why wrecks cannot be removed is down to legal implications. Government cannot just go and remove wrecks without clearing the legal bottlenecks because those wrecks belong to some people.
“People own those wrecks. In some cases, they were seized by the Navy or Marine police before constituting what we call wrecks. For example, if you visit any police station, you will see seized vehicles parked everywhere.
“That is the same scenario that plays out with ships when they are seized by security agencies. They have to be parked somewhere on the water. As long as we continue to adopt that procedure as our modus operandi, then we have to deal with the fact that if somebody’s vessel is seized by security agencies and the person goes to court, if the legal issue is not resolved, then nobody has any right to dispose of such vessel.
“And even if the vessel eventually becomes a wreck by sinking or rotting away on the waterways where it is parked (anchored), it is still subject to legal implications and cannot be disposed away.
“Therefore, if any government agency goes there to remove it or cut it off in form of wreck removal, such agency has not only committed infringement against the owners’ right to fair trial but has also dragged itself into a protracted legal issue that it might not win.
“For wrecks to be removed seamlessly, there has to be a court judgement backing such action, and with Nigeria’s legal system, we are talking about years of court proceedings.”
Lack of adequate facilities
Basil gave another reason for the persistence of wrecks on Nigeria’s waterways as lack of adequate facilities to remove them.
“If you go around Nigeria today, the biggest wreck removing crane the nation has, probably on water, is about 400 tons and it is owned by Underwater Engineering Limited in Apapa.
“At a point, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) also brought in two floating wreck removing cranes, but both cranes have sunk and are in disuse. The two cranes are in Marina jetty there and are not being used.
“For efficient wreck removing efforts, a country needs a floating crane of 1000 tons. A 1000-ton crane will conveniently lift out any wreck, shake it and then blank it into shape. Then such wrecks will be taken to a safe place for repair or cutting into pieces for other use.
“The biggest crane being used in Nigeria today is about 600 tons and is owned by Crane and Rust Ltd. It is being used in the nation’s energy sector and is 24 hours fully booked.
“Another infrastructure that is lacking in this country is maintenance/repair yard. Many of the vessels want to go for repair and maintenance but there is none of such here in Nigeria. So, what happens most times is that if such vessels have minor accidents that just needs repair, due to lack of such facilities here, most often times such vessels end up going down. This is another major reason why wrecks keep increasing in Nigeria’s waterways,” the engineer added.
Lack of shipping knowledge
The Delta Marine chief executive pointed out that the rush to make money before understanding the business terrain of Nigeria’s maritime sector has been another major reason many new vessels bought for business purposes end up becoming wrecks on the waterways.
“A lot of us that went into buying vessels and ship ownership went into the business with our minds made up on profit making without really understanding the implication of the maritime business.
“Some people buy vessels, thinking that if they don’t get jobs, they can just park them somewhere on the waterway for a while until they get a job for the vessels. However, people don’t know that to just keep your vessel outside bar on the water has financial implications.
“In Ghana, charges for parking vessels on the waterways are calculated by the tonnage of the vessel. So, there is nowhere a vessel owner will keep a vessel and will not be paying for parking, whether the vessel is working or not.
“Apart from the normal cost of running the vessel, which includes feeding the crew, maintenance of the vessel, safety issues and others, the vessel owner has to still pay for that space which the vessel occupies on the waterway.
“Unlike road transport where you can just park your vehicle on the roadside and nobody comes to ask you for any charges, in maritime transport, you pay for space.
“That is why when new vessel owners get faced with this enormous demand for financial support just to maintain a vessel that is not working, a lot of such vessel owners normally end up leaving the vessel to its fate, which in turn adds up to the number of wrecks we already have,” Basil stated.
Danger on Nigeria’s waterways
Many of the wrecks turned derelict that litter the nation’s shoreline are owned by indigenous shipping companies, many of whom have gone bankrupt due to lack of jobs in the lucrative oil lifting business.
From Maiyegun to the Alpha beach areas in Lagos State, a litany of once new vessels that have become a shadow of their old selves drift away slightly even while on anchorage.
With so many wrecks left to drift away on anchorage, the issue of safety and security on the nation’s waterways has regularly featured on the agenda of the maritime sector.
While many of the wrecks that drift on anchorage at the nation’s waterways have become havens for criminally minded persons, some unlucky vessel owners have lost their investments due to collision with these sunken wrecks that lie on the bed of nation’s seas.
Most vulnerable to collision are ferry operators whose livelihoods depend on inter-connectivity of the nation’s inland waterways. For Akeem Lasisi, a ferry operator at the Lagos Marina jetty, “the fear of underwater wrecks from Marina to Ikorodu inland waterways channel is the beginning of wisdom.”