For allegedly failing to respond to distress calls by the crew of MV Orciv, a fishing that caught fire and sank off the Bonny Channel in Rivers State, the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA) and the Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNOWTSSA) have held the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) liable for the loss of the vessel.

Two of the crew of the fishing trawler are still missing since February 6 when MV Orciv sank after she was destroyed by the fire incident.

But NIMASA has absolved itself of any blame.

However, the two associations insisted that NIMASA remains culpable given that it was repeatedly notified early enough for rescue to have been arranged for the distressed trawler.

NITOA and NMNOWTSSA expressed displeasure over what they called the negligence of the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (RMRCC)Unit of NIMASA.

Speaking with reporters, NITOA president, Akinsola Amire, berated NIMASA, accusing it of inefficiency.

According to him, the gravity of the fire would have been minimised, if the agency had responded on time.

An official of NIMASA’s Search and Rescue unit, who pleaded anonymity, said: ”RMRCC operation is capital intensive and NIMASA cannot shoulder everything to handle issues of safety at sea alone because it is subjected to the will power.’’

NIMASA, he said, had other stakeholders in the sector that assist whenever there are distress calls based on proximity to the location of a particular incident.

“We got the alert around 8.30pm and we contacted our partner in that axis but we have network issues.

“We contacted NLNG to assist and rescue the vessel from sinking,” he added.

Amire said that contrary to the agency’s claims, it does not have the wherewithal to address safety issues at sea.

He quoted NIMASA as saying it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NLNG on putting out fires, adding: “Instead of NLNG to salvage the situation, it was asking for a contract before it could carry out the salvage operations.”

Amire picked holes in NLNG’s claim that it went to the location and found that the vessel was beyond salvage.

“NLNG did not go to the location but asked to sign a contract before the salvage operations could begin.

We must call a spade a spade. It is me today, it can be anybody tomorrow. The question is: What are they (NIMASA) coordinating? Is it just to bear the name? What is Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre doing? Just taking reports and doing nothing?” Amire said.

NMNOWTSSA secretary-general, Comrade Julius Efokpor said: “Based on the information we gathered, we learnt NIMASA did not respond to the situation and it’s against the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) convention as a regulatory agency.

“If they sent the right signal around as at the time of the distress call, I believe vessels around would have been able to assist the crew and the vessel in question.’’