x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

On two days already this month, search and rescue teams have been called to six incidents of people getting into trouble in the water.

Swimmers have been warned to pay attention to the flags on the beaches indicating whether the water is safe to be in or not. Sarah Dea / The National
Swimmers have been warned to pay attention to the flags on the beaches indicating whether the water is safe to be in or not. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // Police are warning swimmers to take extra care at beaches after a sharp rise in the number of people finding themselves in trouble this month.

Lt Col Ahmad Burqibah, deputy of Dubai Police’s search and rescue department, said there had been two days this month where six incidents had been reported.

“We had six incidents on June 6 and another six on June 13, but thankfully no one died,” said Lt Col Burqibah, adding that red warning flags were flying on both days.

He said there were 35 incidents involving 46 people last year, most of which took place in May.

“Out of 46 people last year, three people died – one in May, one in June and one in September.”

Of the 35 cases, 18 occurred near the Burj Al Arab.

Lt Col Burqibah said there had been five incidents in the first five months of the year but no fatalities.

He said most cases involved people between the ages of 21 and 30.

“The leading cause of drowning is because some people ignore our advice and instructions.”

“We always make sure to put a red flag on the shore if the sea is dangerous, as I would say that 90 to 95 per cent of drowning cases are due to weather conditions,” Lt Col Burqibah said.

“The first thing a person should be aware of before heading into the ocean is what the weather situation is, look out for the warning flag and make sure to read the board, available on each beach, with all the warnings and safety instructions.”

There are three flags: white, meaning the ocean is safe; yellow, meaning swimmers should be cautious; and red, meaning they should not enter the water.

Lt Col Burqibah said his department worked closely with Dubai Municipality to establish a list of warnings and instructions on every beach.

“We worked together and looked at what other countries, such as Australia, the UK and the US, have done to establish a unified list of instructions in Arabic and English,” he said.

“We also agreed on what beaches are safe enough for people to swim in. A person may assume that he is a strong swimmer but he does not know how much stronger a current can be.

“If a person finds himself being pulled back by a current he should not resist, and go with it. It will end at some point, after which an individual can swim back to shore from around where the danger zone is.”

There has been a 50 to 60 per cent decrease in cases of drowning in the past five years, Lt Col Burqibah said.

There are 128 search and rescue lifeguards and patrols, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and seven search and rescue stations in Dubai.

“Once we get wind of a drowning case we make sure to get to the scene within a maximum of six minutes,” he said. “However, because we have patrols, we usually get there within one to two minutes.”

But Lt Col Burqibah said people should avoid swimming in the sea in the evening because they would be hard to see in an emergency.

If a swimmer is found to be in distress, “we quickly assess the situation and check for a heartbeat”, he said.

“In a case where there is no heartbeat, we try to revive them through CPR or the [cardiac] machine before the paramedics take over.”

People should not hesitate to call 999 in an emergency.

“The main problem is that people ignore the warning signs and there should be more awareness when it comes to this issue,” he said.