At least 125 deaths by drowning have been documented since the start of the summer, according to coast guard records. The figures show that an average of 370 people die every year in such incidents – mostly at beaches – around the country, making drowning second only to road accidents as a leading cause of death.
Experts blame poor awareness and inadequate safety measures along the country’s thousands of kilometers of coastline for Greece’s high rate of drowning deaths.
Many local authorities continue to flout their obligation to provide lifeguards at popular beaches by sidestepping regulations in favor of cost-cutting, according to sources.
Nikos Giovanidis, director of the country’s Coast Guard Academy, explained that one tactic adopted by local authorities is to alter the designation of beaches so that they are not obliged to provide lifeguards.
According to legislation, only beaches designated as “busy” must have a lifeguard on duty for a three-month period at the height of summer.
The designation of beaches is decided by a three-member committee comprising representatives from the local and regional authority and the coast guard.
“The majority of ‘busy’ designations have been enforced by the coast guard with a minority vote,” Giovanidis said, suggesting that local and regional authorities are reluctant to address the issue.
“No mayor has ever been prosecuted for leaving a beach unguarded,” Giovanidis added. “To a great degree, municipalities do not implement regulations because the cost of a fine, when it is enforced, is less than that of hiring a lifeguard.”