By Amin Kef (Ranger)
Following a report that the business premises of Sea Coach Express located at Aberdeen Bridge in Freetown has been sealed off by the National Water Resources Management Agency (NWRMA), the Management of Sea Coach Express has given assurance that they are open for business at the same time registering an apology to its valued customers for any inconvenience caused by an unfortunate incident on the 20th September, 2023.
The Chief Executive Officer of Sea Coach Express, Capt. Olusegun Jaji, stated that from humble beginnings, his company has been transformed into a formidable force to reckon with in the ferry business adding that with barely one boat at the start of the venture in July 2009, they can now boast of a fleet of boats plying the route from Freetown to Lungi and other parts of the country, much to the satisfaction of their customers. He added that from the onset they have been very compliant with honouring statutory provisions especially as they are operating as a business entity.
According to a senior official of Sea Coach Express there was never a formal introduction of the newly formed agency to them on how it relates to water transport operations on the sea.
He said they are familiar with and deal with agencies related to Marine resources and they have also looked at the enabling Statute saying that the statute and the agency are meant to cover and protect the use of potable water and inland water ways and not the maritime environs and the sea.
“We feel this has been an unfortunate misunderstanding that can easily be resolved through the right process of dialogue,” he pointed out adding that the agency has now called for a meeting in their office to discuss the matter.
On its Corporate Social Responsibility, the official maintained that the company has been very active in that area with the provision of thousands of scholarships to disadvantaged students, the construction of several water wells in the community it operates and the building of a hospital at Aberdeen, which was donated to the community in April 2019.
The Sea Coach Management’s assurance came in the wake of an unconfirmed report that the National Water Resources Management Agency (NWRMA) has taken a decisive action by sealing the business premises of Sea Coach Express.
Also, it was alleged that the closure was enforced due to the ferry company’s failure to obtain a required water use permit, marking the latest development in a prolonged effort to bring the company into compliance with water management regulations.
The allegation continues that prior to the latest aforementioned enforcement operation, the NWRMA had engaged in multiple discussions and appeals with various businesses, including Sea Coach Express, emphasizing the importance of adhering to water management laws, particularly when they use water resources for economic purposes.
It was claimed that leading the enforcement team was one Abu Bakarr Iscandri Conteh Esq said to be the Director of Legal, Regulations and Outreach at NWRMA, whom it was said explained that the operation was the result of extensive consultations and collaboration with the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in a joint effort aimed to hold accountable businesses that have been flouting the country’s water resources management laws.
It was further stated that Director Conteh emphasized that Sea Coach Express had been the recipient of numerous visits and warning letters from the Agency but had failed to comply.
The said Director is quoted to have stated that: “Section 29 of the National Water Resources Management Agency Act of 2017 clearly outlines the purposes for which a water permit should be obtained, and Sea Coach Express has violated this law by operating without a permit. According to Regulations 27 (2) of the Water Use and Catchment Protection Regulations 2022, the Agency has the authority to suspend the operations of businesses that neglect or fail to comply with its directives.”
The National Water Resources Management Agency, it is said, was established in 2017 by an Act of Parliament Act No. 5 of 2017 tasked with various mandates, including conservation, protection, control, development, and management of water resources in Sierra Leone with specific objectives to levy fees on water users who derive economic benefits from their usage, such as sea transport companies, mining firms, and water bottling companies that extract water from natural sources.