Wednesday, August 19, 2009

BALI: Wave of controversy

A Singaporean died in Bali waters recently. More people drown each year. But who's to blame - swimmers who ignore warnings or lack of equipment and lifeguards?

Last year, 15 people died in water-related accidents in Badung, the district Seminyak, according to figures the Kuta Balawista, an Indonesian life-saving club.

During the holidays last month, 84 visitors were caught in currents in the South Bali sea. One died.

The latest victim was Mr Douglas Lee, 39, a Singaporean businessman, who drowned at Seminyak Beach after a post-lunch dip last Sunday .

He and two friends were swept 200m out to sea by a freak wave despite wading in waist-deep waters.

His companions, Mr Michel Oosterhof, 42, a Dutch executive director, and Mr Arnaud Ferrand, 35, a French director of a sports complex, survived.

While they were lucky, why did more than a dozen others lose their lives? Is it because swimmers don't know enough or choose to ignore tidal conditions and warning flags?

Or is it because safety standards, equipment and personnel are lacking in Bali?

The Bali police spokesman had said that Mr Lee was swimming in dangerous waters where there were red flags up warning of strong currents and that no swimming was allowed.

The survivors denied this, saying they were swimming at a part of the beach where red and yellow flags were flying, which they said indicated a lifeguard-protected area.

'We were right in front of The Legian and it is a very expensive hotel. There were already 30 people swimming there. And there were people renting out surfboards,' Mr Oosterhof said.

They said the tragedy could have been averted if proper equipment was available.

Dive instructor Eugene Sim, 41, who owns Dive Atlantis Centre, said that the waves at some beaches in Bali can be very unpredictable, and even when the water is shallow, swimmers can be pulled 'all the way down to a certain depth'.

He said that whenever he visited the Bali beaches (Kuta, Sanur and Tulamben), he noted a lack of safety equipment.

'Even if the lifeguards had jet skis or speedboats, they need to think of their own safety too before saving someone else, especially when the waves are so big,' he said.

Bali's beaches are especially dangerous for swimmers who do not know the waters well, he said.

Mr Sim said: 'They panic and start struggling. But the more they struggle, the more they cannot breathe and they will choke on the water and that's when they start drowning.'

Mr Christopher Lee, 41, owner of Simply Scuba, thinks it is easy to point fingers after an incident.

He said: 'If you don't feel comfortable knowing that there aren't any watchtowers or safety equipment around and you still go into the water, who can you blame?'

Madam Isabelle Gomez, 45, owner of Villa Karisa Bali, a guest house in Seminyak, said she and her then-7-year-old son were swept out to sea by a rip tide three years ago.

The lifeguards there were very good, she recalled, and mother and son were saved.

But more can be done with equipment.

Mr Stefan Noll, executive assistant manager of the Legian Bali, said: 'Together with other operators on Seminyak Beach, we have approached the Tourism Board and Bali Lifeguard Association to install a watchtower on the beach and to have motorised rescue vehicles.

See complete story from the original source:
The New Paper, Tue, Aug 18 2009