River transport could have been one of the convenient means by which goods, people and services can be conveyed from one geographical area to another especially between coastal and inland areas. BUT!
The Volta river is the main river transport route in Ghana with many landing facilities at different sections of the volta lake. Noticeable towns along the Volta lake include; akosombo, sekeduasi, moron, kpandu, yeji, Makango,kete-krachi, Jimam among others.
Despite the contribution of this transport system to the economic development of Ghana and the increasing number of people who apply this medium of transportation in Ghana, protection of passengers live has either not caught the eyes of authorities or it’s less prioritized.
Having used the volta lake as my means of transport for over ten now, I have seen no sign by marine authorities in ensuring passengers safety. From my traveling experience on the volta lake especially Yeji and Makango route, I have come to believe that any passenger on board of any vessel does that with his or her own risk of life since it seems nobody is ready to ensure that passengers on board are safe, and that in case of accident, there would be an immediate response.
It is very worrying to see people who has been employed and positioned at the landing ports to ensure the safety and smooth movement of goods across these water bodies, sit unconcerned as passengers go through this life threatening and risky ventures by boat owners and their operators. A regular user of river transport in Ghana, for instance yeji makango route might have made the following observations;
- No life jackets for passengers onboard with any of the vessels. This is very unfortunate! Sometime you just have to imagine in case of any incidence what will be the faith of all these passengers onboard?
- No inscription or instructions either written or verbal as to the maximum passengers a boat is supposed to take on a journey. In fact there is no such an indication written on the boats as one may see on vehicles on our roads. This implies that boat operators are free to overload, unless there is shortage of passengers and goods.
- It is also obvious that, if one is traveling from let’s say Kumasi to accra, one may not be able to count the number of police check points. They in connection with road safety commission and the motor and vehicular unit of the Ghana police service check over speeding, overloading, smuggling, armed robbery and enforcing other road safety regulations including wearing of sit belt by both drivers and passengers, and wearing of crash helmet amongst others. All in the name of protecting lives…BUT what happens to passengers who travel on our water bodies? Do we have such supervisions or mechanisms? The answer is definitely no!
- Boats sometimes operate in the night without lights
- About 99% of these boats and their operators on our water bodies are not licensed. Anybody with a little swimming skill eventually becomes a boat driver or operator. Most of the boats are weak and not worthy of being use on our water bodies. Unlike other vehicles on our roads where road worthy is periodically assessed and renewed, marine vessels seems to be ‘enjoying freedom’.
- No marine police or the navy is even present at all the river stations (landing ports) to check what kind of goods being transported whether legal or not, overloading, passenger safety etc..This tells you how porous our river transport may be.
Ghana has recorded several incidences on its water bodies leading to loss of many lives and properties. In 2002, about fifty (50) lives were lost in the volta lake when a boat accident occurred near Amevloikope island who mostly basic school pupils. Similar incident happened in 2014 where eighteen (18) passengers died.
Should we sit down and watch this careless act continue? And when an accident occurs, we will as usual constitute a committee to milk state money all in the name of investigating into the possible cause of it. WE OBVIOUSELY KNOW THE CAUSE!
It is high time the government, ministries in charge of transports, marine authorities, and all other stakeholders rise and treat this issue with all the seriousness it deserves. Properly managing and regulating the activities of boat operators on our water bodies such as checking overloading by written boldly the maximum number of passengers a boat and other marine vessels are suppose to carry on a journey.
The maximum weight of the boat should also be written on them. Like driver and vehicular licensing authority (DVLA), I suggest that government should also consider introducing what I term ‘Boat and Operator Licensing Authority’ (BOLA) and ‘Water Safety Commission’ just as we have road safety commission to ensure that there is sanity on our river transport. Government should also consider supplying boat operators with subsidized life jackets for all licensed boat operators. This should ensure that all passengers onboard are wearing their live jackets.
All the above mentioned policies may not succeed if we do not position law enforcement agencies such as the marine police or the navy at the various landing facilities or stopovers on our lake and rivers. National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) must also be up and doing and go beyond their post-disaster intervention to providing pre-incidence measures on our water bodies.
If we fail as a nation to prioritize the safety of our water transport, then we are welcoming a disaster…..#prioritizepassengerssafety!!!!
By: Amadu Abdul Hadi (geography lawyer)
Email: [email protected]