Lifeguards warn cuts are increasing risks at beaches

Lifeguards have told Kathimerini that local authority cutbacks mean that there are fewer of them on duty to protect bathers, noting that 202 people have drowned in Greek seas so far this year.

Although 2011 is expected to end with a lower drowning toll than 2010, when 374 people died at sea, lifeguards fear that bathers are at risk as many lifeguard towers remain empty.

According to the law, organized beaches should employ lifeguards between 10.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. daily in the period between June 1 and August 31. The beaches of Attica offer more protection than the legal minimum, most being staffed with lifeguards from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily between May and October.

The same does not apply outside Attica, experts told Kathimerini, noting that on many beaches lifeguards did not start their summer jobs this year until mid-July.

According to the head of the National Lifeguard School, Vanja Vichou, only half of the required lifeguards are currently at work.

It appears the repercussions of the country?s economic crisis have created a spike of interest in would-be lifeguards with hundreds of aspiring candidates contacting the school. ?The number of people who expressed interest in 2010 was double that in 2009,? Vichou said, adding that many of the would-be candidates were aged over 60 and recently unemployed.

Offering a net monthly salary ranging between 900 and 1,500 euros, as well as free lodgings in most cases, the profession seems to appeal to a large section of the growing ranks of the unemployed despite its seasonal nature.

The tasks of the lifeguard are not only to save bathers in trouble but to report to the local coast guard cases of dangerous maneuvers by people operating motorized dinghies close to the coast.

In most cases, foreign tourists renting boats are not to blame, according to Andreas Selimis, a lifeguard working in Mani, in the Peloponnese.

?Nine times out of 10 the perpetrators are Greek,? he said.