It is now almost 60 days since the ill-fated marine vessel Niko Ivanka sank off the coast of Buchanan, claiming the loss of several lives including staff of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
This was a vessel which, according to Maritime authorities, was not seaworthy and had, in fact, been grounded on instructions of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA). Just why such a decrepit vessel was allowed to leave the Freeport of Monrovia was the question on the minds of the public.
In the wake of public demands for an official investigation followed by punitive action against those found culpable, Maritime authorities announced that the pier superintendent at the Freeport of Monrovia and two other individuals were being charged for illegally authorizing the decrepit vessel to set sail. The government of President Weah was widely expected to at least declare a day of national mourning for the more than twenty (20) lives lost in the sinking incident, but it failed to do so.
And after coming under a barrage of negative criticism for its failure to respond adequately President Weah announced a contribution of US$100,000 to the families of the bereaved to assist with funeral and burial expenses and promised to leave no stone unturned to ensure justice for the victims.
But as things have turned out, those promises have yet to be fulfilled, according to family members who spoke to journalists during funeral services over the remains of WAEC staff whose bodies were either found by Coast Guard or were washed ashore. Further, according to family members, neither the Ministry of Education nor the WAEC office has visited the bereaved or made any contributions towards funeral expenses of the deceased. Similarly, they have not heard a word from the owners of the Niko Ivanka.
Additionally, according to family members, since the Maritime authorities promised a vigorous and transparent investigation, no word has been heard from them. It appears that families of the deceased are deliberately being kept in the dark for unexplained reasons, according to them. These developments have raised anxious questions about whether the announcement of a US$100,000 contribution from President Weah to the bereaved families was a mere publicity stunt and image-building exercise.
According to an expert in the maritime industry and former employee of the National Port Authority (NPA) (name withheld), the sinking of the Niko Ivanka was an accident which should have been prevented simply by not allowing the vessel to set sail, especially after it had been officially declared unseaworthy.
In other countries, according to the expert, LMA, NPA, WAEC, the Ministry of Education and the owners of the sunken vessel would, by now, be facing crippling liability suits involving several million dollars.
Continuing, he said, considering the list of demands issued by the families, those authorities should be more than thankful that bereaved families did not opt to sue. And, according to him, the relevant authorities should have reciprocated with immediate action to address the concerns of the bereaved families as stated in their position statement.
Moreover, their pains would have been assuaged had President Weah made good on his promised US$100,000 assistance package. But since hen (President Weah) has failed to do so, aggrieved family members may be easily prodded into taking legal action to seek redress, the expert maintained.
But continued failure to respond adequately could have negative spinoff effects on a successful second-term bid by President Weah. He should be fully aware of this, except he is not being told the truth by his advisors. As President, he is widely considered the father of the nation, thanks to the cult of the “Imperial Presidency”. Accordingly, whenever he makes a promise publicly, he is expected to come through else he risks undermining public trust and confidence in his leadership, as well as his government.
The Ministry of Education, WAEC, NPA, LMA, and owners of the Niko Ivanka should not hide behind the protective shield of the government to evade responsibility for their lapses. Correspondingly, the Weah government, by its inaction or non-action, should refrain from conveying the impression that it is involved in a cover-up. The Daily Observer pleads with President Weah to make good on his promises to the bereaved families to at least offer assurances of concern with an implicit understanding that those culpable would be brought to book as soon as possible.
We further plead with President Weah to urge his officials to conclude investigations into the matter, as it has now been more than 60 days since the Niko Ivanka sank off the coast of Buchanan with the loss of over twenty persons.
We would hasten to remind President Weah of the need to bring closure to the families of the deceased through firm action that will foster justice by removing the cloud of impunity covering those determined responsible for the occurrence of such a disaster.
Finally, the Daily Observer calls on the Ministry of Education, the West African Examination Council, the National Port Authority, the Liberian Maritime Authority and the owners of the Niko Ivanka to step up to the plate, first by accepting responsibility and second by providing fair compensation to families of the deceased who, through no fault of their own, have sustained such irreparable losses.
Should they however fail to do so, the affected families may likely pursue justice by seeking legal redress through the Courts of this Republic. Families of the deceased need closure and President Weah has the responsibility as head of this nation to ensure that the grieving families receive closure. In case he does, he will be doing the right and proper thing which will certainly receive public approbation.
However, in case he does not, then well…! But he should bear on mind that 2023 is just right around the corner. Last word: Bring Closure to Bereaved Families of Victims of the Niko Ivanka Disaster, Mr. President.