The Nigerian Navy has raised serious concerns over the inability of the Nigeria’s relevant port agencies and authorities to salvage over 25 merchant vessels that sank seven years ago as a result of a strong storm that took place off the Lagos coast.

This development constitutes a major hindrance  safe and secure waterways transportation in the country.

Recall that several vessels belonging to Nigerian shipping companies were washed ashore while many others in excess of 25 sank as a result of the strong storm that hit the Lagos coast in the country since February 17, 2010.

The Commandant, Nigerian Defence College, Rear Admiral Adeniyi Oshinowo, who spoke recently in Lagos, said that the limited and seemingly inaccurate nature of weather predictions in Nigeria and the inability of the port authorities to develop adequate salvage capacity constitute major challenges to achieving safe and secure waterways in the country.

He defined the waterways to encompass shipping and waterborne commerce routes in the offshore, costal and riverine areas of the country’s sovereign and jurisdictional domain as provided in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea UNILOS, 1982 and other maritime interests of member states in terms of internal waters, territorial seas, Exclusive Economic Zones EEZ, the high seas and Continental Shelf, among others.

He noted that this strong storm that took place off the coast of Lagos on February 2010 remains a watershed in the nation’s desire towards ensuring safe and secure waterways transportation in the country, saying that the aftermath of the ugly incident exposed the level of Nigeria’s preparedness to ensure safe and secure waterways transportation.

According to him, the storm exposed the limited nature of weather predictions in the country, as the incident was never predicted as well as the very low salvage capacity of the port authorities over the years as the merchant ships numbering over 25 that were affected by the storm were never salvaged till date.

He said: “The contemporary state of maritime safety around Nigeria’s waterways could be illustrated with the aftermath of the storm that occurred off the coast of Lagos on February 17, 2010. At the end of the two-hour change in weather, at least 25 merchant ships in the Lagos roadsteeds broke anchor and were washed ashore. The incident exposed, among others the susceptibility of shipping to such adverse weather conditions in Nigeria’s waterways.

“It also highlighted the limited weather prediction and salvage capacity of the port authorities, as many of the victim vessels could not be salvaged till date. It further revealed that many ships in the roadsteads were not crewed or in good operational state at the time of the incident, indicating that the area is largely unregulated dumping ground”.

It was also gathered through the revelations of one of the owners of the victim ships, MV BADMUS that many of the ships were not properly insured to facilitate mitigation of losses incurred from the incident.

On the other hand, he cited the instance of the United States coast, which is frequently assaulted by hurricanes, noting that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA revealed that many of such hurricanes originate from the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea before transiting the Atlantic Ocean and making a landfall on the US East Coast.

“This understanding necessitated significant increase in NOAA’s investment in oceanographic studies in the Gulf of Guinea. Furthermore, observations in recent years have revealed increasing coastal erosion along the nation’s waterfronts, particularly around Lagos and Bayelsa States. Likewise, the increasing pollution levels around Nigeria’s coastal waterways, particularly plastic products, constitute serious hazards to safe shipping and marine ecology. For instance, Nigerian Navy’s ships are frequently degraded as a result of blockage of water inlets and outlets, thereby impairing cooling system of the machinery”, he also said.

The Naval-boss therefore said that improving maritime safety in the country’s waterways requires concerted efforts in addressing these predictive and preventive inadequacies on weather and environmental practices as well as the need to emplace more effective surveillance and inspection of vessels operating around the coastal and port approaches.

“As sustainability of deep navigable channels constitute a critical necessity for enhancing safety and security in the waterways, the Nigerian Ports Authority would need to develop appropriate dredging programme. As an alternative, completion of the construction of deep sea ports in Badagry, Lekki, Bonny and Ibaka could serve as the pivot of a new strategy to accommodate deep draught vessels while existing inland and city ports are reserved for lower draught Coastal and Inland Shipping Cabotage vessels”, the Commandant also said.