No fewer than 13 persons, including two children were brought out dead Wednesday, after a 24-passenger boat capsized at the canal running behind 4th Avenue, opposite 41 Road, FESTAC Town, Lagos on Tuesday night.
A combined team of emergency and rescue workers drawn from different agencies in the state however rescued five persons, while four persons were still declared missing as at press time.
This is coming barely a month after another boat capsized at Ogogoro Village, Boulos, Navy Town, Apapa, Lagos, killing about 10 persons including a mother and child.
The survivors, which include Samuel Ochina, Temisan Mane, Joseph Essien, Daniel Peter and Etukutfot Geoffrey, were rescued by emergency workers drawn from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Nigerian Navy Special Boat Services (SBS), National Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA), a team of local divers, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) and the Police Disaster Response Unit.
Eyewitness account said the mishap could be blamed on the overloading of the boat, a situation where a boat meant for 15 passengers was carrying 24 persons.
The boat, which was coming from 6th Avenue and heading to 4th Avenue, capsized at the middle of the canal when an obstruction upturned the boat and its passengers into the canal.
The two children who were on board the boat when fished out by emergency workers, clasped their hands together apparently in a bid not to be separated in the murky water.
The bodies of the deceased persons, including a woman and 11 men have since been deposited at IDH mortuary, Yaba, while the five survivors are being treated at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.
Speaking to THISDAY, the Public Relations Officer, NEMA South-west, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said the agency received information at about 11pm on Tuesday that a boat carrying about 25 persons capsized at 4th Avenue opposite 41 Road junction, FESTAC Town.
He said on receipt of the information, officials of NEMA, Naval personnel from the SBS, officials of National Inland Waterways (NIWA), Marine Policemen and LASEMA personnel quickly mobilised to the scene.
He said: “At the end of the rescue operation, a total of 13 dead bodies were recovered, five persons rescued, and about six persons still missing.
“Local divers were also mobilised to comb the murky waters in search of victims. As at last night, the bodies of 11 men, a woman and a girl have been recovered. Two kids were among the dead bodies recovered.â€
Farinloye said one of the challenges facing water transportation is the lack of essential safety facilities, especially safety jackets and first aid in the crafts, as well as the challenge of overloading.
Addressing journalists at the scene, the General Manager, LASEMA, Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyitolu, said the agency alongside the local disaster management team headed by Amuwo Odofin Local Government Chairman, Ayodele Adewale, activated rescue operation.
“As at this morning, a total of about 13 bodies were recovered, five rescued. Those who were rescued were admitted at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.
“They have all been treated and discharged having been satisfied medically fit to go. Initially though, six persons were rescued but a woman died on the way to the hospital.
“Henceforth, this place has been sealed to prevent a repeat occurrence. We call on members of the public who may wish to go by water transport to ensure that they use life jackets,” he said.
One of the bereaved family members who was at the scene, Mr. Osaro Okunbo, said he was alerted in the night by a friend on the predicament that had befallen his younger brother, Uyi.
He said: “At about 10pm on Tuesday, I got a call from a friend who told me that my brother was involved in an accident. At first I thought that it was a minor thing only for me to be confronted by my brotherâ€™s lifeless body.”
Mohammed Alfa, a relation to the two deceased children, said he was in a fix on how to break the news to their mother. He said,:”They were on their way to their mother’s shop when this incident happened.
â€œAlthough she is aware that they were in the boat, we made her believe that they were among those rescued and sent to the hospital.”
While rescue operations were ongoing, some of the residents finalised plans to storm the office of the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Chairman, Adewale, to protest the fate that befell the victims.
According to the angry mob, the incident could have been prevented if the council boss had heeded the pleas to construct a pedestrian bridge connecting both sides of the canal.
However, Adewale said though the tragic incident was regrettable, the mishap could have been prevented if members of the community had not refused to make use of the newly constructed bridge, which was less than 3,000 metres from the scene of the accident.
He said: “We have advised members of the community not to use the close. We even constructed a gate and chained it to dissuade people from passing through the road, but some people went and cut it off.
“Henceforth, we shall enforce the ban on the use of the close as an access road. Anybody arrested around the place shall be made to face the full weight of the law.”
The stateâ€™s Deputy Police Spokesman, DSP Ozoani Damasus, said though rescue operations might have been called off for the day, policemen would continue to be on the ground to provide security for rescue workers.