No fewer than 168 passengers on board a wooden boat travelling to Gabon are feared dead, throwing the water transportation industry in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states into deep mourning. Investigations by CODEWIT revealed that the boat loaded in the early hours of Monday, March 18 at Oron Jetty beach in Akwa Ibom State with 168 persons on board, including crew members. It was learnt that the boat developed problems when it entered the international waters and could not withstand the stormy waves.
It was further learnt that the boat, carrying traders and holidaymakers as well as children, was overloaded with passengers and goods, thereby making it difficult for the crew members to control it when tide became turbulent. A source at Calabar Marina Jetty beach told CODEWIT that 70 percent of the passengers on board left Calabar beach to board at Oron because the transport fare from there was cheaper. They also considered the ride from Oron safer as the agents handling the wooden boat knew how to manoeuvre the creeks to beat sea pirates.
The source hinted also that majority of the passengers were Igbo traders from the South-east who were returning to Gabon after the Christmas season while the rest were from Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers and Ondo states. CODEWIT investigation further showed that already 45 corpses had been recovered and deposited at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) mortuary while local divers from the two states were said to be searching for the remaining bodies. When WE visited the UCTH, sources close to the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Thomas Agan, said “the management was directed by the federal authorities to receive the corpses and treat them well.”
It was learnt that the bodies of the victims were being deposited in UCTH Calabar because they were believed to be Nigerians and use Calabar as their major route to neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo and Gabon. Inquisitive residents within the metropolis were seen trooping to the mortuary to find out if their relatives were involved. Confirming the incident, the Information Officer of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr. David Akate, said the boat was carrying 168 passengers, adding that rescue efforts were still going on.
He said the boat was travelling 40 nautical miles off Cross River post, adding that the incident was closer to Akwa Ibom territorial waters. A marine transporter at the Calabar Inland Waterways, Mr. Emmanuel Oko, said the passengers of the boat were mostly Igbo traders who were heading to Gabon. He said the traders came from the South-east states and headed to Oron in Akwa Ibom to board the wooden boat because it was cheap.