DUBAI // The stars of the popular TV documentary series Bondi Rescue are bringing their lifeguard skills to Dubai in an effort to curb the number of fatal drownings in UAE waters.
The Australian team mans the busiest and most challenging stretch of the island nation's coastline - a suburb of Sydney known as Bondi Beach - and are known to provide one of the best lifeguard services in the world.
Bondi Rescue follows their day-to-day working life and is broadcast around the world, including here in the UAE, on the Nat Geo Adventure channel.
Three of the series' lifeguards - Kristian "Yatesy" Yates, Anthony "Harries" Carroll and the head lifeguard Bruce "Hoppo" Hopkins - were invited to Dubai by Pirates Surf Rescue Club (PSRC), a new private enterprise, to launch and supervise a sea rescue programme.
"I run the professional lifeguard service as you see on the show Bondi Rescue," said Mr Hopkins, Bondi's longest-serving lifeguard, at 15 years. "So, that is what we will be teaching: rescue techniques, first aid, resuscitation, fitness, rips, how to survive and how to spot dangerous ocean conditions."
Drownings in Dubai more than doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, with children particularly vulnerable, according to Dubai Rescue Police.
Of the 36 people who drowned in the first six months of 2010, one quarter were under the age of 18.
Concerned about the number of deaths and keen to promote change, PSRC's founder Candy Fanucci, a former competitive swimmer from South Africa, decided to contact the Bondi Rescue team after watching a few episodes of the reality series.
"Initially, I was going to ask them to come just for the official launch after having watched them on television, but then I had a South African swimmer come across and do the training and we realised - even with our experience - we didn't know enough to teach at this level," she said. "I needed help, and so I contacted Hoppo. I asked if they'd be interested in staying and running the programme and they said yes."
The Bondi team will train qualified and internationally experienced swim instructors here and then work on rotation. There will always someone from Bondi on duty in Dubai to monitor course instruction.
Among the local staff will be expatriates who have won international lifesaving competitions. There are no plans yet to team the programme with the Dubai Municipality's own coast guard.
The PSRC course will use life saving equipment, including surf rescue boards, jet-skis and even helicopters.
Two of the Bondi lifeguards are expected to complete their tour of duty in Dubai before the end of December and another two between January and March next year.
A "Nippers" programme will teach children as young as 7 years old basic lifesaving sea skills.
"It's a culture in New Zealand and Australia," Ms Fanucci said. "The kids go to Nippers and then move up the ranks."
The aim, she said, is to have a Dubai team competing in the 2012 World Life Saving Championships in Adelaide, Australia.
"It's important to educate the children about the sea," she said. "About how to identify rip tides from the shore. If they get caught in one, knowing how to react, what to do if they are stung by a jelly fish. It's something different, something important, and will be an asset to Dubai as it grows."