The Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) has been urged to urgently check the standards of life jackets and other marine safety wares being imported or manufactured in Nigeria for use by water transport workers and passengers.
This charge was given recently by the Director General of the Nigeria Chamber of Shipping (NCS) Mrs. Ify Anazonwu Akerele in Lagos when she received a group of maritime journalists at the chamber’s head office.
Akerele said SON’s intervention in checking these protective wares has become imperative as operators and passengers on-board commercial boats are likely unaware of the danger they are exposed to on water with life jackets that cannot guarantee their safety in the event of a marine accident.
She identified standards of maritime safety wares as one area that SON can partner with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to prevent loss of lives.
Findings reveal that most commercial boat operators on Lagos waters prefer some locally made life jackets which are cheaper than imported and more reliable ones.
Lagos, Nigeria’s number one commercial hub with a population of about twenty million persons have an estimated one million persons living, working or traveling along the coastal areas with life jackets that may help users sink rather than float.
From Badagry to Marina, Epe to Ikorodu, Igbologun,various islands and small community settlements along the coastline, Lagos posses a strong marine culture that predates the coming of the European colonialists.
The Lagos marine environment boasts of high degree of commercial activities including fishing,floating supermarket (ship chandling), commercial boat and ferry transport, sand dredging,aquatic land reclamation, tourism among others.
The commercial boat operators in Lagos all agree that non of the jackets were tested to confirm if users can stay afloat should there be an accident on water.They all boast of being good swimmers that can survive anytime on water in the event of an accident or outboard engine failure.
There have been many unreported cases of deaths or loss of lives due to boat accidents in Lagos, even in instances where flotation devices were put to use.
In January 2014, a local passenger boat conveying ten passengers and one boat operator capsized along Navy Town area in Ogogoro village.
The boat was said to have left Ibafon (Coconut) area of Apapa for Ojo Town and suffered a mishap just about 17 minutes into the 30 minutes trip.
Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) officials that carried out rescue operations disclosed that 3 persons were missing after the incident.
These personal flotation devices according to experts do not have limited lifespan provided they are not altered, repaired or reworked. Any form of damage or repair on a life jacket may compromise its ability to float with the user.
Boat operators and passengers seems to be ignorant of the make up of these devices as passengers sometimes sit or trample on them.
The material inside the Personal Flotation Device (PFDs) or life jackets that ensures they cause users to float could break-up and the external shell could become torn.
Some of them expose their PFDs directly to sunlight. The ultraviolet rays can damage their fabrics. All of these behaviors are strongly discouraged by marine safety experts whose services are never engaged by the boat operators.
Investigations also shows that the boat operators never take time to check and reconfirm the status of their life jackets as the jackets are merely procured as a matter of compliance to avoid arrest by the authorities, not really for users’ safety.
This is evident in the fact that an almost zero maintenance is given to the life jackets as some do not only look old and torn but has over time found made to be in a state of disrepair .
The standard life jacket is keyhole style and comes in two sizes – one for people who weigh over 40 kg (90 lbs), and one for those who weigh less than 40 kg (90 lbs).
For standard life jackets, requirements are that they must be orange, yellow or red, and have a whistle attached to them.
Commercial boaters in Lagos give passengers uniform jackets in most cases irrespective of the users’ weight acting as if one size fits all.
These care free approach to maritime safety has also been observed in other coastal parts of the country where water transport is a norm.
When contacted, to know what government is doing to ensure that only internationally acceptable standards life jackets are used, Mr. Mathias Bassey spokesman for SON did not answer calls made to his mobile phone.
Joseph Odumodu had in 2013 said that Nigeria losses over N500 Million annually to poor standards goods imported into the country. Marine safety device may not be exempted from the list of these imports.