x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Help swimmers to save themselves

It is time for a public education campaign to be implemented, with locals and visitors alike made aware of the dangers at sea and in the pool.

Sometimes people have to be saved from themselves - particularly when it comes to taking unnecessary risks, such as swimming in dangerous waters. Some people seem to believe that water is a purely benevolent force, or perhaps they think that no matter how strong the current, their ability to swim through it is superior - despite official warnings to the contrary. Some of them may even see warning signs as challenges to be met, rather than good advice to be heeded.

The simple fact is that drowning is a very real risk every time you step into the water, and particularly so in bad weather.

Last Friday, three people drowned and two others were rescued off Ajman Corniche Beach after they ignored warnings not to swim. A police marine patrol had closed the road leading to the Corniche parking area and, while some people were allowed to sit on the beach or play basketball, they were told not to swim because of the high seas caused by recent stormy weather in the Northern Emirates.

Sadly, the list of these mostly preventable deaths is long. In Dubai alone, there were 13 drownings and 64 incidents classified as near-drownings last year. In 2010, Dubai authorities recorded 15 drownings, six of them at sea, and 45 near-drownings. Among the tragedies so far this year, a boy was found dead in Dubai Creek in May. On top of the deaths and rescues are the uncounted close calls, where swimmers have been rescued, sometimes by other beachgoers.

The authorities are doing their bit to stem the tide of tragedy. Dubai has set up an early-warning system to alert beachgoers and fishermen of the possibility of rough seas, and many beaches across the Emirates have warning signs, with patrols at the most popular places.

It's impossible to legislate for common sense, but a public education campaign is certainly worth implementing, with locals and visitors alike made aware of the dangers at sea and in the pool. Where appropriate, signs should be available in languages other than Arabic and English, and with internationally recognisable symbols.

While we are reluctant to suggest financial penalties, fines should be considered in cases where people wilfully and repeatedly disobey warnings, putting at risk not just their own lives but the lives of those who selflessly try to rescue them.