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18.04.2006 Disaster

Latest on lake disaster: Helmsman surrenders, says it all

Latest on lake disaster: Helmsman surrenders, says it all

The man who was in control the boat which was involved in an accident on the Volta Lake last week has surrendered himself to the police and accused 14 officials of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission for the tragedy.

Disputing earlier claims by the commission Mawuli Akimbola said all 14 were heavily armed when they occupied some speed boats and forced them to carry out an evacuation exercise ordered by the Wildlife Division.

According to him the team escorted his boat and forced people to board it at 13 different locations as part of the evacuation exercise to rid the Dija National Park of encroachers.

Mr Akimbola made the allegations last Wednesday shortly after voluntarily surrendering himself to the police at Tepa Abotoase.

He was accompanied by the assembly member for the area.

He said assertions by the Wildlife Division that its officers only saw the boat at around 7am between Tsita and Agordeke were untrue.

Narrating the circumstances that led to the disaster, he said on that fateful Saturday, he started work at 7am as he usually did on market days.

He said he had gone to Gavekodzi to load when the two speed boats arrived carrying monitoring teams pulled up beside his boat.

He allege that after taking on board one woman the team escorted him to 12 other settlements where evacuees were forced to boat his boat.

Mr Akimbola said he was forced to carry 67 passgeners between Gavekodzi and Mancheri excluding passengers he had picked at Wanukope and Agordeke.

Ten of the passengers voluntarily disembarked at Mancheri, reducing the number to 57.

Mr Akimbola said at the time of the accident there were between 95 and 100 passengers on board the boat which sailed on the lake under many names such as 604, Born Again, Delai and Oyame Nti.

He attributed the accident to overloading of the boat which caused it to hit a tree stump creating an opening in its underside.

The boat capsized twice, discharging its cargo in the process while causing some passengers to lose their hold on their seats.

That, he said, resulted in a brief moment of confusion, as the passengers struggled to cling to anything they could hold on to while shouting for help for those they saw drowning.

Mr Akimbola said as the events of the accident unfolded, all, except two women, who were the first to drown after jumping into the lake, heeded his advice and held onto their seats with their children secured under them.

He said apart from the fact that many of the passengers were fishermen and could swim, the availability of reed mats, otherwise known as “akyakya”, saved many of the survivors from getting exhausted and giving up.

Asked whether the storm was responsible for the accident, Mr Akimbola said the storm came nearly one hour after the accident had occurred, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

He insisted that the route he used that day from Mancheri towards Abotoase was the very route he had used in all his six years' experience as a helmsman on the lake and that the boat could not have hit the stump if it was not unusually heavy.

Mr Akimbola said although his boat was registered to carry 63 passengers, he normally carried passengers below that number because of the desire to carry more cargo.

He, however, admitted that on occasions that he had to carry only passengers, he could carry up to 100 without exceeding the water mark.

The helmsman was convinced that but for the storm which delayed help for about another two hours, only the first victim, whom he described as Labila's wife, and Ama, a pregnant woman from Gbonkope, would have been lost.

He said besides the delay which caused exhaustion among some survivors, the storm also made rescue work difficult, resulting in the loss of eight more lives.

According to Akimbola, he was sure of the total of nine deaths after the rescue, which he confirmed from surviving passengers who had reported of missing relatives.

Interestingly, he did not consider Gado Zabrama, an elderly man he described as an advisor on the boat, as dead, although he could not be accounted for because Akimbola believed Gado had spiritual powers that could carry him to safety.

He accepted that Gado was dead only after he was found floating on the lake on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 10.

The deceased have been identified as Doe Tobo, 8, Fati Hasan, 7, and Yahya Tobo, aged one year and eight months. Their bodies were recovered on Saturday and buried at Abotoase, without post-mortem examination.

The rest, whose bodies were recovered between Monday and Tuesday, were buried close to the accident scene, said to be about 12 nautical miles from Abotoase, allegedly on the instructions of the Jasikan District Environmental Health Officer because the state of decomposition of the bodies.

They are Gado Zamrama, 70, Amma Bedra, 46, Maame Labila, 40, Korku Ahiagba, 3, Lydia Ahiagba, 5, Lamin Seidu,16, and Bright McCarthy, aged one year and seven months.

The police have confirmed that 71 people survived the accident.

Seventeen of the survivors, including two pregnant women, were treated at the Abotoase Health Centre for minor injuries, fatigue, bodily pains and unconsciousness.

The others, except a nine-month-old baby, were treated and discharged at the Worawora Hospital.

Meanwhile, soon after the helmsman surrendered himself to the police, the owner of the boat, Mr Robert Nani, was released on enquiry bail. Investigations still continue.