BEIRUT: Every summer brings a spate of drownings off the Lebanese coast and swimming pools, and this year has been no exception, with seven fatalities over the last two months alone. But Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud has vowed to crack down on establishments not following the correct safety regulations.
In May a man drowned off the coast of the southern city of Sidon. In June a Syrian man was found dead after he drowned south of Beirut, a Sudanese died at a beach resort in Maameltein where he worked, another was found drowned off Tyre, and a woman in her 70s was found dead along the coast of Jbeil. In early July a man drowned, also in Jbeil, and last week a 17-year-old boy drowned in a hotel pool in Jezzine.
Several of these fatalities occurred before the official start of the summer season – which should see lifeguards installed at all private and public beaches and pools – but Abboud says that even now, not all resorts and beaches are enforcing this rule.
The Jezzine hotel at which the teenage boy drowned last week had already been warned over its rule-breaking, Abboud said after the accident. Out of 198 facilities which the Tourism Police have been monitoring, it received a citation, along with 43 other venues, in late June for not having certified lifeguards or a first-aid facility.
When inspected by tourism police before the accident, the venue was found to have listed the name of their licensed lifeguard, which is necessitated by law, as the hotel’s accountant, Abboud told The Daily Star Sunday. “This was obviously dangerous, the lifeguard has to have completed a course and hold a diploma.”
Previously, the ministry would give such establishments two warnings, and would have the power to close them were they to fail a third inspection in a row.
Since this latest tragedy, Abboud said, “We are becoming much more tough. When it comes to safety, we will not give them three chances. We will give them one warning, and then a week in which to comply, and then we will close them down.”
Of the other establishments which had received warnings, even before the accident, Abboud added that the tourism police, “are following up on daily basis. People’s lives are at stake here.”
But while private beaches and resorts fall under the jurisdiction of the Tourism Ministry, public beaches are the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which Abboud labeled “unbelievable but true.”
While the law stipulates that each public beach must feature a lifeguard and a first-aid kit, this is not being carried out comprehensively, he added.
“They have to have a lifeguard, but some of them don’t. But the problem is who is going to force them?”
Whether or not the local municipality or the Public Works Ministry bore ultimate responsibility for ensuring that a lifeguard is present at each public beach was difficult to ascertain, the minister added, but he said he was keen to work alongside others to make sure the law was enforced.
Abboud has written to the Minister for Public Works and Transport, Ghazi Aridi, to express his wish to help follow up on this issue.
“It doesn’t matter whose jurisdiction it is under, if it is to do with the lifeguards, we want to enforce it.”
Water safety: Tips for safe Swimming
The World Health Organization lists drowning as the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide.
Men are twice as likely to die from drowning as women, due to their increased proximity to the water, in work such as fishing, and an increase in risky behavior, such as swimming alone, or drinking alcohol before swimming.
Here are some safety tips from Lebanon’s Civil Defense on how to stay safe during the swimming season:
- Don’t let children swim unattended. Avoid swimming in deep waters alone, and avoid swimming when there are strong currents and high waves.
- Don’t swim directly after eating or drinking.
- If you have muscle cramp, lie down on your back and relax.
- Don’t let kids run around pool areas or jump into the deep end.
- Don’t water ski or jet ski, without wearing a life vest.
- Don’t drink or drive boats or jet skis. Wear a life jacket while on a boat.
- Don’t jump from high places, especially in rocky areas.
- Avoid river banks, especially in the spring, as the current will be stronger, due to melted snow.
- Don’t swim in rivers or lakes or agricultural ponds.
- Call Civil Defense (125) in emergency.