x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Third drowning victim identified

Surfers will meet today to discuss ways to better safeguard public beaches.

DUBAI // The third victim in a spate of drownings that took place last weekend has been identified as a British expatriate, Paul Gradon, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed yesterday.

Three men drowned in separate incidents in the space of three hours on Friday.

The first victim, Martin William Hayle, 50, was a tourist from Britain who drowned off Jumeirah Beach Residence Open Beach at about 1.45pm. The second victim, Haja Mohammed Ismailuddin, 26, from India, was swimming at Umm Suqeim 1 Beach when he drowned at about 4.30pm.

Gradon, 50, a former business development manager at Dolphin Radiators and Cooling Systems in Sharjah, drowned at 3.30pm after going swimming with a friend at JBR Open Beach.

"It is quite shocking that he is no longer with us," said Sudheer Raghavan, a sales manager at Dolphin Radiators and Cooling Systems.

"We share a cabin and before leaving for the weekend on Thursday evening we spoke to each other, and parted hoping to meet the following week. But on Saturday, we heard he had died."

Gradon, whom colleagues described as "softly spoken and gentle", had only been with the company for a few months. "We had planned a lot of things for the future of the company," Mr Raghavan said.

Gradon is survived by his wife and two children in the UK, according to his former employer.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed the deaths of the two British nationals at the weekend, saying: "We are providing consular assistance to the families of both men at this sad time."

In response to the drownings, the heads of Surf Dubai, Surf Shop Dubai and Dubai Surfing Association will meet tonight to discuss ways to push for stronger lifeguard systems and proactive engagement with the emirate's authorities.

Daniel Van Dooren, co-founder of the Dubai Surfing Association, said the group was made up of about 1,500 members, of which 900 were active surfers.

Mr Van Dooren said the Dubai Surfing Association was formed in 2009 after the municipality tried to ban the sport on Dubai beaches.

"They said surfing was a threat to swimmers, so we formed this association to explain that the beach is actually a safer place with surfers. We know about the currents and the tides and the rips, and we're out there on a natural flotation device."

He said that for 90 to 100 days of the year, when there were waves on the beach, surfers assisted one or two swimmers a day on average.

Scott Chambers, the founder and manager of Surf Dubai and co-founder of the Dubai Surfing Association, said: "I think the municipality understands the situation and they do react. But, yes, we do need more lifeguards.

"On Umm Suqeim Beach in particular, it has become more dangerous because of the construction at the northern end. That's enclosed this space and changed the geography, and as a result the rip currents are much stronger on any given day when the waves are up."

Carl de Villiers, the owner of Surf Shop Dubai, said: "We want to suggest best ways forward and hand over these points to Dubai Municipality."

Topping the agenda will be proposals for a strong system of lifeguards comprising volunteers or government-paid lifeguards and a better warning system during rough weather. The groups will also propose running safety courses for labourers, tourists and residents and engaging the community in policing beaches.

"I grew up in Dubai and learnt how to surf on Sunset Beach," said Mr Van Dooren, referring to Umm Suqeim Beach, next to the Burj Al Arab. "I suppose you could say I feel a responsibility to that beach and to keeping it safe."

pkannan@thenational.ae