Greece tops list of drownings

More swimmers drown in Greece than in any other European country, according to the Merchant Marine Ministry’s estimates for the season so far, largely as a result of irresponsible behavior and a lack of lifeguards on public beaches. Of the 171 people who have lost their lives off the country’s beaches this year, 134 were Greeks. «Although we have a very long coastline, it appears we don’t know how to swim properly and don’t have a good relationship with the sea,» said Spyros Mitritsakis, an instructor with Life Guard Hellas. «We often overestimate our abilities or swim after a meal.» Last summer, 314 people drowned, in 2007 it was 342, in 2006, 284, and in 2005, 275. By law, all beaches run by municipalities or private businesses must have a lifeguard, but in practice this is rarely the case, according to the lifeguards themselves. They charge that municipalities, the authorities responsible for hiring lifeguards, either fail to do so or try to find someone at the last minute. «The port authorities’ inspections are not as strict as they should be, but in any case the law itself has shortcomings. The fines for not having lifeguards are lower than what it would cost to hire them, so most municipal councils don’t bother,» added Mitritsakis. «Of course they don’t take into account the risk of loss of life or the damage done to the country’s image because of these incidents.» He said evidence showed that at beaches where lifeguards were on duty, the number of deaths by drowning dropped by at least half. «In fact there are places where as many as 10-12 people drowned every year, but after lifeguards were hired, the accidents ceased,» he said. Although over half the victims so far this year have been aged over 60, there were also a few children and teenagers. «It only takes 30 seconds for a child to drown,» said Dr Akis Terzidis of the Children’s Accidents Research and Prevention Center. «Adults should pay attention to what their children are doing, and not read the newspaper on the beach. Of course the state can’t just remember these issues once an unfortunate accident has happened.»