Even as dozens of abandoned shipwrecks and barges litter Lagos waterways, coastal waters and beach shorelines, investigations have revealed that many of the wrecks are now being used by criminal elements as a working storage facility for stolen or “bunkered” oil.
Investigations revealed that the practice is most prevalent Kirikiri and snake island area of Lagos waterways where boys in wooden boats store stolen petrol and other goods in the tanks, deep inside the wrecks, then at night usually, it will be picked up.
Our correspondent in an online agency report gathered that scores of shipwrecks in Lagos’ waterways, coastal waters and on the shores of its beaches have turned parts of its 850 kilometer coastline into a marine cemetery, damaging the environment and aesthetics of the coastlines.
According to the report, in Kiri-Kiri, the lagoon corridor, scores of wrecks and discarded ship scrap provide useful cover to hide illicit goods and barrels of oil and gas.
From there, the waters offer an easy route up the Lagos coast to Benin and beyond. Expensive scrap metal culled from unmanned wrecks can be sold for thousands of dollars.
“Oladele,” a 30-year-old, who did not want to publicize his real name, has plied the waters on his boat since he was 15.
He says it’s not the only wreck that stores illegally imported oil brought into the port by the huge tankers delivering petrol and gas, then sold on in neighboring Benin and Togo.
“Every ship does it. They will declare 10 tons but bring in 12,” he said.
“We will store them in the tanks, deep inside the wrecks, then at night usually, it will be picked up.”
Middlemen could typically make at least $80 to $200 a trip for several years. “It’s big business,” he said.
Experts have also said that the wrecks act as groynes, halting the flow of sand downshore and accelerating erosion.
However, it was gathered that lack of regulation on the waters has also helped illicit activity thrive, turning the ghost ships into hideouts for sea criminals.
One crew member around Kirikiri, who asked not to be identified, told our correspondent that he and three others had worked shifts to stay in the cabin all day and night for 15 months since the ship capsized.
Copper and bronze and the brass from the ship’s propeller could be sold for as much as 20,000,000 naira ($55,000), he said.
“People will come and steal valuables that are still here,” he added.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which polices the country’s waterways, also claimed that it is proactive in removing the hundreds of wrecks but concede that removing them is expensive.
Yet many of the wrecks, below sea level and invisible above it, present numerous dangers.
A 6 p.m. curfew exists for commercial boats, which is imposed in part to prevent accidents.
White flags are hoisted on few of the below-the-water wrecks to warn approaching craft but most have no visible warning signs, meaning riders have to remember where they are.
“It can be dangerous riding the boats at night,” said Oladele.
“But the curfew also protects all these crazy activities that you would see if you traveled here after dark.”