Boat mishap: Operators, officials face sanctions over death of medical students

FOLLOWING the boat mishap that claimed the lives of three medical students in Calabar, Cross River State, operators and officials connected to the development face sanctions from the state government.

Thirteen medical students under the aegis of the Nigeria Medical Students Association (NiMSA) had on Saturday, June 24, boarded a boat at Marina Resort as part of their annual health week programmes. But the boat cruise turned tragic after the vessel capsized.

A total 10 out of 13 medical students were rescued immediately by the Naval officers, while the remaining three drowned. Their bodies were discovered two days after the incident.

The students, who were from various Universities across the country, were scheduled to visit the marina resort, slave trade museum and the Tinapa tourist resort as part of the boat cruise on Saturday.

The ICIR gathered that the first set of student tourists had a safe landing but raised concerns, and were assured of safety by the operators of the Marina Resort.

After the second group of 13 students tourists boarded the boat, the engine reportedly shut off some minutes into the journey, giving way for water to enter the boat at an uncontrollably rapid speed and amount. 

This situation led to the sinking of the boat and caused the death of the three students, consisting of two males and a female.

Announcing their demise on its Twitter account, NiMSA revealed that the two male students, Mustapha Tukur and Hamza Kabir, were from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, while the female student, Aisha Celestine Ogwu, studied in University of Uyo.

The state Commissioner of Police, Gyogon Grimah, confirmed the development on Monday, June 26, noting that “The three corpses of the missing students have been recovered. The police have been working day and night to rescue the missing students.”

Incident was a result of negligence, incompetence -NiMSA

The Nigerian Medical Students’ Association (NiMSA) has blamed Saturday’s incident on the operators of the Marina Resort.

The association, in a statement by its President, Ejim Clement Egba, explained that the “ugly, avoidable and extremely traumatizing incident causing so much anguish to the medical students community nation wide was as a result of negligence, incompetence and the lackadaisical attitude of the crew members and the management of Marina resort.”

He also highlighted some other factors that contributed to the boat mishap.

“Factors that contributed to this occurrence include: leaky boat, poor condition and integrity of the vests, poorly maintained engines resulting in the engine going off during the trip, fuel finishing before they got back to shore, little or no supervision by management, poor regulation and monitoring.

“I and the leadership of NiMSA swiftly ensured that all those rescued were taken to the hospital for prompt and adequate medical attention. While on that, I also led a delegation to the Naval base base and search teams were again sent out with the aim of rescuing the three remaining students. We have reached out to the marine police as well as the indigenous divers.

“I had since converged an emergency briefing with all the delegates, explicitly explaining measures instituted and ongoing actions actions by security agencies to recover our colleagues. All the delegates involved had since been discharged in good condition but for one who is still being observed, though will be discharged soon as he is stable and ambulant.”

State government’s reaction

The Cross River State Governor, Bassey Otu, has ordered an investigation into the boat accident, vowing to punish any government official found culpable.

A statement on Saturday, June, 24, by spokesperson to the governor, Emmanuel Ogbeche, said Otu decried the safety standards at the resort adding he will sanction anyone found guilty of compromising safety.

”To imagine that the boat was overcrowded and some of those on it were without life jackets is of even greater concern and the more reason why the state government will be investigating the incident.

”All those found culpable of having compromised on safety standards will face the wrath of the law.

“As a government, we remain committed to protecting lives and providing an enabling environment for business, tourism.”

NIWA arrests operators

Meanwhile, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), on Monday, June 26, announced the arrest of the operators of the boat that crashed while conveying the students during the boat cruise for offences bordering on overcrowding and engine malfunctioning.

    A statement released by the organisation said the jetty has been sealed as the boat was not duly registered with NIWA. It added that the jetty was also not approved by NIWA. 

    Parts of the statement read: “NIWA has since arrested the operators and sealed the jetty as the boat is not duly registered with NIWA, and the jetty is also not approved by NIWA. The 11 rescued victims were taken to hospital and they are now okay and discharged.

    “We commiserate with the families, friends, loved ones, and the Medical Students Association for the loss of the three students. We pray to God Almighty to grant them the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss and may the gentle souls of the departed rest in peace.

    “We feel very sad to announce that NIWA’s search and rescue team recovered the three missing corpses of the medical students that were involved in the boat mishap on Saturday, June 24, 2023, in Calabar waterways.”

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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