Posted by News Express | 13 March 2014 | 4,029 times
No fewer than 13 persons, including two children, were yesterday confirmed dead – four others were presumed missing – following a boat mishap at a canal located between Fourth and Sixth avenues, FESTAC Town on the outskirts of Lagos.
Six persons, including Samuel Ochina, Joseph Essien, Mane Temisan, Etukofot Goddery and Daniel Peters, were rescued by local divers and emergency agencies officials. They were taken to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) for treatment.
Eyewitnesses blamed the mishap on overloading, noting that the boat had about 24 passengers against its capacity of 10 to 17 people. The incident occurred at about 7:30pm on Tuesday while most of the occupants were rushing to Fourth Avenue to watch the Arsenal and Bayern Munich match.
According to a local diver, David Mark, who said he was on queue to join the next canoe before the incident, “a little girl warned the passengers and boat owner that the canoe will capsize due to overload.”
“She told them that the weight was too much and that some of them should go down to avoid capsize, but they did not listen to her.
“I heard her shouting ‘this canoe will tumble and I will swim my way out. I doubt if most of you can swim. It appears you do not want to do the right thing. The weight is too much’, yet they refused to yield her advice because most of them were running to watch football.
“Less than three minutes after the boat took off, it started staggering and the passengers were just shouting that the dirty water was touching them.
“By the time it got to the middle, it eventually tumbled and I watched the little girl swim out and go away. I may not be able to recognise her but I think she stays on the other side (pointing to 6th avenue).
“The boat operator also died. That boat was supposed to carry a maximum of 17 passengers.
“Immediately, I pulled my clothes and dived into the water along with others who know how to swim, but we could only save seven lives after several hours because the carnal is swampy.
“The others we recovered Tuesday night (11) were dead and we were told that one of the seven victims also died in the hospital.”
Mark said officials of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), led by the General Manager, Dr. Femi Osayintolu, were on the scene.
Other divers, Anthony Ogbabon, Yusuf Yaya and Tony Priye, corroborated Mark’s story.
Ogbabon, who said he lost his younger brother, Ebuka, in the mishap, did not know that he was a victim until he saw his body.
“I got here around 10pm after I was called that a boat had capsized and people were trapped underwater. Because I know how to swim, I quickly rushed down to help save lives. I did not know my brother was among the victims.
“We recovered about 11 men and a woman (all dead). I was shocked when I saw my brother’s body. Ebuka left the house to watch a match but it did not occur to me he could be among the victims.
“At that point (5am), I followed others to take his body to the mortuary and I went home from there. So, I just came back this morning to continue searching for others because they said four or five more people were missing.”
Yaya said he saw five people come out of the boat at about 7:40pm while local divers were struggling to save lives.
“Immediately the boat capsized, five people came out. That was before I entered the water. Then, I joined others for the operation and I left around 12:30am.
“As we were still here, the Local Government Chairman (Ayodele Adewale) came in. He was crying,” said Yaya.
Osayintolu said 19 persons had been recovered.
He said: “Although we did not get the information early enough, we joined forces with the Local Emergency Management Agency (LEMA) to save some lives.
“Seven persons were rescued alive, one of them, a lady, unfortunately, died in the process of evacuation before we got to LASUTH. Then, another victim was given first aid at the scene and discharged. Five others were taken to the hospital for observation.
“They have also been treated and discharged today (Wednesday). But, unfortunately, 13 lives were lost,” said Osayintolu.
Sympathising with families of the deceased, Osayintolu warned that the state government would no longer tolerate lawlessness on its waterways, noting that “a lot has been put in place to ensure safety, yet people keep flaunting the laws.”
“We have appealed to our people to ensure they use life jackets whenever they are using water transportation. They are basic things needed for sea transportation and for safety.”
Relatives of the deceased and missing persons wandered the place in search of their loved ones or their remains.
While some onlookers lamented the loss of three sons by one family, others that a destitute woman with two of her children (a boy and girl) who boarded the boat were yet to be found.
People, especially women, were wailing and mentioning names of those they presumed were yet to be recovered from the canal.
An old woman, whose identity was not immediately known wept, and asked to be allowed to go and see the canal, but she was persuaded out of the premises by sympathisers who said she lost her child.
Amuwo Odofin Chairman Adewale said the route would be permanently sealed, since all efforts to stop the people from commuting through it yielded no positive results.
He said there was no plan by the government to build a bridge across the canal, given that the Festac link bridge is less than 10 minutes walk from the disaster site.
Adewale disclosed that the local government had in the last two years temporarily closed the route with chains, but the people always found a way to cut off the chains.
“I think the nearest bridge, which is just about 2000 metres away, is enough to take care of the needs of the people. The problem is that the people do not want to move away from their old trend of commuting through this route. The bridge that was here before was a makeshift bridge and it collapsed over 12 years ago.
“We have gone ahead to provide tricycle parks at both ends of the Avenues to make it easier for the people, yet they choose to go the other way. A lot of effort was put in place to discourage them from plying this route. We even put signs indicating the danger.
“But since those efforts did not work, the next option for us is to permanently block the road. We had been reluctant in doing so because of emergency situations so that this canal can serve as escape route or for security operations, but we do not have another option now than to block the gates permanently to forestall a re-occurrence,” Adewale said.
•Excerpted from The Nation. Photo shows rescue workers at the boat crash site.
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