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Opinions of Friday, 10 June 2016

Columnist: Agbai, Stephen

Curbing perennial Volta Lake disasters: Need for concerted efforts

In the wake of another accident on the Volta Lake resulting in the death of at least twenty-five (25) people, it is high time we pooled thoughts to reduce the incidence drastically.

Vehicular accidents have lived with humankind since time immemorial. Thus, it will be unrealistic to suggest that they can be brought to an end. Having said that, those in direct charge of marine transport have to admit —that our efforts so far to nip this in the bud do not indicate any sense of responsibility and urgency.

Thus far, we have only paid lip-service to the perennial carnage by reporting, criticising and promising what we are not willing to deliver.

On Sunday, May 29, 2016, reports came in from the PruDistrict of the Brong-Ahafo Region about the death of over 25 people who drowned and died on the Volta Lake when a boat they were travelling on from Yeji to Nantwekope capsized after reportedly hitting a tree stump.

The immediate cause of the accident is not known. However, survivors and eyewitnesses have attributed it to overloading of the boat with people and goods. In clear terms, the boat carried more people and goods than its capacity.

This, regrettably, is a very common practice on the lake. We have only God Almighty to thank for not recording many more of such accidents, considering the prevalence of the underlying causes.

Before now, the Minister of Transport and officers of the Ghana Maritime Authority had loquaciously given us several talks of hope about what they were doing and will do to prevent future accidents on the Volta Lake.

Among them are efforts to:
1. Prosecute boat owners and operators who fall foul of standard health and safety practices
2. Intensify patrol on the Volta Lake by marine police and navy
3. Inspect existing boats in operation and retire those not seaworthy
4. Train boat owners on marine transport operations
5. Supply modern and seaworthy boats to ease pressure on existing limited facilities
6. Move the pontoons used during the Adomi Bridge repairs to be used on the other side of the Volta Lake.

Apart from the last promise which the President has since fulfilled, following the opening of the AdomiBridge to traffic, there is arguably no evidence anywhere that the other five promises have been delivered.

It is,therefore, plausible to argue that the latest accident should be laid at the doorsteps of government and its agencies. They have failed us and should take the flak for it. The era of paying lip-service to serious security issues should be killed and buried. We cannot perform our duties with such perfunctoriness and expect to draw salaries and allowances from the sweating masses' coffers with impunity.

So what is the way forward?

I suggest the following:

1. Government must immediately commission an interagency committee to investigate the incidence of boat disaster on the Volta Lake and other lakes and other waters with similar history.
2. The Ministry of Transport in collaboration with relevant institutions deploy the navy and marine police on the Volta Lake to do a daily monitoring, inspection and ensure enforcement of regulations governing marine transport
3. The local authorities should begin a gradual and sustained process of clearing the stumps in the lake to ensure smooth sailing
4. Ministry of Transport must organise professional training for operators of boats on the lake and their apprentices and partners
5. Boat owners found to be involved in recent disasters and their operators must be arrested and prosecuted
6. Families of those who have died in the accident as well as injured survivors must be compensated by government and boat owners
7. NADMO must procure and distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to passengers on the lake as the absence of that is a rcause of the death of those who drowned
8. Transport ministry in collaboration with relevant agencies must immediately clear out old and ramshackle boats that are in operation on the lake that are not seaworthy.

Individually, patrons of that means of transport have to put their destinies in their own hands by insisting on standard operating procedures before boarding boats. It makes no sense for the traders who use the service tolose their lives to avoidable accidents in the name of earning a living. The few Cedis that one seeks to make by travelling across the lake in such life-threatening circumstances is not worth the while.

If we all place premium on our lives and ensure that the right things are done with regard to marine transport, the incidence of boats capsizing and people dying will be drastically reduced as is elsewhere in the world. People who fail to comply with SOPs should be reported to law enforcers without fear or favour. Hopefully, they will act on their prompts.

I cannot end this without giving Mr. Samuel NuamahDonkor and his management at State Transport Company (STC) thumps up for conceiving and working to introduce hovercraft services on the sea and lakes. If this is realised, it will play a major role in achieving an accident free marine transport services in the country. Of course the ease and comfort it will bring to many commuters and travellers cannot be understated.