How passenger ferry, MF Onitsha, was used, abandoned at Oyingbo Jetty… turns squatters’ home

Looking worn-out from decades of service as Nigeria’s one-time biggest passenger ferry, flagship of the National Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA), the MF Onitsha, may have been given an inglorious retirement by the NIWA Management, as the ferry sits partially sunken in water at the Oyingbo Jetty, Lagos.

On a visit to the Jetty on Friday, Sept. 23, Marine Network saw that the waters of Oyingbo Jetty was a busy veritable refuse dump, apart from a gunboat of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) at berth, a number of fishing and passenger canoes and work vessels sailing by, several other boats, and the MF Onitsha serving as living quarters for a mixed crowd of squatters.

A risky walkabout aboard the MF Onitsha revealed that that the double-decked vessel is best suited for the scrapyard, in order to salvage whatever could be of economic value from her, including the steel plates from the body panels and wood from the seats, before further decay renders these completely useless.

Marine Network gathered that the MF Onitsha had been acquired as a used vessel in the early 1970s, and had been deployed into service of ferrying passengers and modest cargoes along the nation’s waterways, notably in Lagos.

It was learnt that the MF Onitsha, before her terminal rest at the Oyingbo Jetty around 2007, had experienced periodic dry docking and other layoffs for servicing and refurbishment.

One of such rehabilitation exercises, according to findings by Marine Network, was carried out with a sum of about N40 million.

The ferry emerged from that particular refurbishment, which reportedly involved extensive engine overhaul works at NIWA’s workshop in Warri, Delta State, South-South Nigeria, and was drafted back to service around 2003 shuttling the stretch of the lagoon between the Lagos Marina Jetty and the Apapa Jetty.

By 2007, the MF Onitsha, which had emerged from that multi-million refurbishment with fresh livery from coatings of paints and varnish on the panels, railings, seats and other parts, it was gathered, was considered too worn-out in body and engine, and was subsequently conveyed to the Oyingbo Jetty where she has remained till date, decaying.

For official clarification of the current status of the ferry, bellow is the correspondence sent to Mr Tayo Fadile, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs of NIWA, for a response.

“Please, react to the allegation that the (one-time?) flagship of NIWA, the MF Onitsha, was purportedly sold off surreptitiously after an estimated N40 million refurbishment and subsequent celebrated relaunch at the Lagos Marina Jetty circa 2003.

“It would be recalled that before that rehabilitation and relaunch, the MF Onitsha had lain fallow at berth for long at the Lagos Marina Jetty, serving as a walkway for passengers boarding and disembarking from other ferries forced to double bank and use the more sizeable MF Onitsha as berth.

“On an even more ignominious level during those inglorious days, the MF Onitsha had also served as abode for so-called ‘area boys’ and other undesirables.”

Responding, Fadile stated that: “the vessel has not been sold, according to the Marine Department.” He added that: “If a vessel was refurbished in 2003, about 14 years ago with 40 million, should we still expect her to still be in perfect working condition even if the spare parts are not readily available in the country? Please, visit the Area Manager in Lagos for further clarification. I thank you for your enquires.”

Taking up Fadile on his words to visit the NIWA Lagos Area office, Marine Network was able to visit the Oyingbo Jetty on a tour of the MF Onitsha, where she sat in her dilapidated condition on the murky waters.

It was learnt that, while the MF Onitsha has not been officially decommissioned, the likelihood of her being fixed and returned to active service is very slim.

Marine experts explained that the MF Onitsha had become too outdated and ruined to ever be a profitable venture again as a ferry.

As an expert puts it: “I won’t advise for the repair of that vessel. At best, the MF Onitsha is suited for scrapping to recover whatever are the remaining useful parts.”

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