Bluewater Bay Surf Lifesaving Club launches drowning prevention initiative

NOVEMBER 30, 2015

The Bluewater Bay Surf Lifesaving Club on Sunday afternoon launched a major drowning prevention initiative aimed at reducing the number of drownings in the Swartkops River, located close to Bluewater Bay in Port Elizabeth.

According to the club, statistics released by the Nelson Mandela Bay Beach Office revealed there were 17 drownings in Metro during the 2014/15 season.  Six of these occurred in the sea and 11 in rivers and dams with 9 in the Swartkops River alone!

"Education can play a major role in reducing the number of deaths caused by drowning in South Africa," said Dave Bamber, chairman Bluewater Bay Surf Lifesaving Club.

"Truly reliable national statistics on drowning are not available although Lifesaving South Africa, the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (known and NIMMS) and SAPS are all trying to improve data collection.

"Nevertheless, all evidence points to an increase in drownings in rivers and dams throughout the country and Nelson Mandela Bay is no exception to the rule.

"What we do know is that statistics for last year showed that more than 50% of all drownings in Nelson Mandela Bay took place in the Swartkops River alone."

Bamber said that this led to calls from the Metro’s Sports & Recreation Department for any input on how the situation could be addressed.

"Bluewater Bay has responded to this call by launching this new initiative, which includes a river patrol, land patrols on the river banks, the erection of warning signage, pamphlet distribution and the publication of a children’s book in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.

"The main aim of all of these facets of the initiative is to educate The areas of concern on the river are the northern side of Redhouse, at Brickfields, the railway bridge and wharf at Swartkops and near the N2 Bridge over the Swartkops River," he described.

"We are grateful for the support that Beach Office Manager, Fernando Cain and the Metro’s Sport & Recreation Department are giving us to assist with this initiative. The Metro is providing all of the signage we require and have given their blessing to our 4x4 beach and river side patrols."

Lifesaving South Africa, which has played an active role in encouraging lifesaving clubs throughout the country to pay more attention to drowning prevention initiatives, has thrown its weight behind the club’s efforts.

Bluewater Bay has also received messages of support from the Metro’s Emergency Services, NSRI and Coastal Water Rescue.

It has won Lifesaving South Africa’s award for the best drowning prevention programme in the country in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

"Our latest initiative is not aimed at winning the award again in 2016 – it is aimed at saving lives. In this regard I can tell you that our existing drowning prevention programme which increased patrols along the entire beach from Wells Estate to the Swartkops River mouth has already been responsible for moving hundreds of bathers out of dangerous swimming areas – thus preventing many potential drowning situations," said Bamber.

"One point of concern, which we believe should be discussed with SAPS, is protocol when it comes to drownings. Under current laws, only SAPS Divers may retrieve bodies, presumed drowned, that are floating in the water.

"We have recently had a situation where a woman had been monitored floating in the river for about an hour before two men noticed signs of life and managed to pull her back to the banks of the river and revive her. This story could so easily have ended as yet another tragic statistic for the Swartkops River."

At the launch, Constable Bruce Brits, of SAPS Despatch, and Jabe De Kock, chairman of the local CPF, received official letters of appreciation from Lifesaving South Africa for their actions.

"We would also like to thank the media in Nelson Mandela Bay for their support in spreading the water safety message.

"Whilst we understand that reports of drownings and heroic rescues tend to make more dramatic news articles, the media in Nelson Mandela Bay has always been prepared to carry warnings of strong rip currents along our coastline and other information we pass on," Bamber said.

"Finally, I would like to thank all of the voluntary lifeguards throughout the Metro that give up their time to make our beaches safer and congratulate the Bluewater Bay Drowning Prevention squad for all of the hard work they have put in towards the launch of our new drowning prevention initiative."

Images: Bluewater Bay Surf Lifesaving Club via their Facebook Page