Philip Nwosu

It was a sad sight at the Badagry channel of the Lagos Lagoon as abandoned vessels and wrecks litter the entire waterways, which now constitute danger to vessels on the high sea.

The abandon vessels, some laden with petroleum products, have also spilled their products on the waters of Kirikiri, causing environmental hazards and killing aquatic life.

The vessels MT Maria Soltan, MV PSV Derby and other merchant tankers without visible means of identifications were said to have been abandoned by their owners, some balkanized unprofessionally and their wrecks now constituting serious danger to oncoming vessels to the sea area.

Some of the abandoned vessels have sunk and completely submerged that other oncoming vessels that are not careful could scratch the bottom of the wrecks that could cause serious damage that could also take millions of naira to repair.

Although successive governments have frowned at the presence of these wrecks and vowed to remove them from the nation’s sea, investigations showed that the number of wrecks has been on the rise in recent times and nothing has happened.

Sunday Sun learnt that over 100 shipwrecks are lying within in the waterways across the country and the Naval Hydrographic Department revealed that 35 of these wrecks are littering the ever-busy Lagos waters, thereby making navigation within the Lagos  waterways a herculean task for unsuspecting vessel operators.

For instance, at the Nigeria Marine Police jetty in Marina, it was learnt that a heavy vessel submerged in the Lagos Lagoon, making it difficult for unsuspecting vessels plying that route to navigate, especially at  night.

Similarly, at the Defence Headquarters jetty also in Marina, a dismembered ocean liner, which could pose threat to unsuspecting vessels, especially during high waters was seen  and it was learnt that the presence of the wreck is one reason, foreign warship visiting Nigeria were not allowed to use the jetty.

The Western Naval Command in Lagos recently warned that unless something urgent is done, especially in other to remove the wrecks from the waterways in Lagos, vessels may be at risk while navigating the sea.

The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji said: “The hazard associated with these wrecks is that most often, especially during high water, they are submerged and hardly visible to mariners and, therefore, pose greatest threats during this period of time.

“Apart from endangering shipping, most of the wrecks also constitute environmental pollution and hazards.

“I do not think it portrays us as a country with laws and regulations in good light, especially to the global shipping community.”

However, some of the vessels Sunday Sun learnt were arrested by the Nigerian Navy operatives attached to the NNS Beecroft between 2015 and 2016 and have been handed over to the EFCC for prosecution, but litigations on the vessels and the products had dragged for several months, hampering their forfeiture to the Federal Government.

A maritime expert simply identified as Joel Marcos l, told Sunday Sun that lack of adequate knowledge in maritime  business, has led to wrecks littering the nation’s waterways.

Marcos said:  “There are several reasons wrecks will remain in Nigeria’s coastal waterways. The first reason wrecks cannot be removed is due to legal implications. Government cannot just go and remove wrecks without clearing the legal bottlenecks because those wrecks belong to some people.

“People are the owners of these wrecks. In some cases, they were seized by the Navy or Marine police before constituting what we call wrecks.  For instance, they were kept as evidence or exhibits to be tendered before a court, just like you keep contravening vehicles at police stations or court as exhibit until the determination of their case.

“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 judgment backing such action, and with our legal system, we are talking about years of court proceedings.”

The expert said while the litigation goes on vessels using the Badagry channel from the Island will continue to have difficulty navigating through the area as most of the abandoned vessels that are anchored on the route towards Badagry have also spilled their product, making navigation very risky.

Apart from hampering navigation, the spilled petroleum product poses great danger to residents of Kirikiri town and the tank farm owners located close to the sea route as a little spark of fire could cause huge damage to public property and also massive loss of life.

A resident of Kirikiri town told Sunday Sun that the spilled fuel had not only killed fishes around the area and prevents fishing by those whose main occupation is fishing, but also poses danger to them, especially with the location of tank farms not far from the area.

Indeed, close to the area is a jetty called S.B Bakare, which is also close to Chisco Oil and Gas and Techno Oil Tank farms and not far from these farms are houses of residents of the Kirikiri Town, who confessed to Sunday Sun that their lives now hang in the balance over the problems of spilled petroleum products on the waterways.

For the residents and business owners, any act of carelessness could spell doom for their homes and businesses located close to the area, especially with speedboats ply that area, “a little mistake could ignite an uncontrollable fire.”

Edward Kweku, a boat owner in the area said: “We just woke up to see these vessels anchored here, at first we thought it was for a while, but suddenly we discovered they are now staying longer and that the ships even have petroleum products stored in them and they have started sinking.”

He said that just as the vessels started taking in waters the petroleum products in them started spilling around the waters, thereby causing environmental hazards and physical danger to other business owners in the area.

Kweku said that he is from Badagry, but comes to the area to conduct his boat business, adding “but I must tell you that this is not good enough for the fishing communities around this area and also the ordinary residents of the area.”

A naval source told Sunday Sun that the vessels, the product and the crew have been handed over to the EFCC, and that they expect the EFCC to have engaged the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to evacuate the products and store them pending the determination of the case against the vessels in court.

The Naval authorities collaborated this, urging the EFCC to find ways of evacuating the product for storage pending the determination of the suit against the owners of the vessels.

NNS Beecroft Naval Base, Lagos in two separate letters dated January 19, 2017 and February 28, 2017 had informed the commission of the deteriorating condition of MV PSV Derby, harping on the urgent need to salvage the vessel and evacuate its contents to avoid sinking.

The letter reads in part:  “Please note that the rate of observed ingress of water into the vessel has now increased at an alarming rate. Consequently, personnel of NNS Beecroft who regularly pump out water from the vessel on a weekly basis now do so three times a week due to the rate of ingress. More so, the vessel constitutes considerable risk for our own personnel keeping security duty on-board.”

The letters, it was gathered, were before the vessel started taking in water, but today the vessels have spilled their products and have eventually gone under just as the Navy has withdrawn its personnel from the vessel.