Few people seem to be aware of the threat of drowning that lurks around beaches and waterbodies in and around Kochi.
Children left unattended at such places are the most vulnerable, since life guards are not present at all locales. “I might have saved more than 120 persons from drowning during the last five-and-a-half months,” said Suresh P.J., one of the life guards on duty at Fort Kochi on Monday morning, who saved two school children from drowning. In Ernakulam district, Kerala Tourism has deployed trained life guards at Fort Kochi, Cherai and Munambam beaches, where foreigners come in good numbers. “We need them at picnic spots like Panieli Poru and Ezhattumukham too, where numerous visitors have lost their lives, said T. N. Jayasankar, secretary of the Ernakulam District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC).
Of late, people from the locality trained by Kerala Tourism take groups of people on guided tours of Panieli Poru, an accident-prone water body in Perumbavoor.
“Though warning boards have been put up at Ezhattumukham, the 4-km-waterfront has got many vulnerable areas. Visitors in an intoxicated condition are the most prone to get trapped in danger zones since their reflexes may not work in the unfamiliar area,” Mr. Jayasankar said.
The agency has plans to install boards that warn people of the number of people who lost their lives in each area. Watch towers from where life guards can take a wide look at the surroundings and better communication facilities would go a long way in preventing deaths by drowning. On their part, parents can encourage children to learn swimming since dozens of children and youth drown each year in Kerala.
Even after the Kerala Inland Vessel Rules took effect, many boats permit passengers to take a ride sans life jackets. Following the boat tragedies at Kumarakom, Thattekad (where over a dozen students and a few teachers lost their lives) and Thekkady, unstable boats and those with doubtful build quality have been taken off service.
Even as they keep an eye on the sea to prevent people from drowning, life remains hard for life guards. “We are here on daily wages and if we do not report for duty on a day, even if it is because of any sprain or fracture caused during a rescue operation, we are not paid. We do not even have beach umbrellas to provide shade,” said Sudhir Chandran, a life guard at Cherai beach.
He added that no death has been reported from the Cherai beach, where 12 life guards are posted.
“Even though we are supposed to monitor only 300 m stretch of the beach, we handle nearly half-a-kilometre. We are helpless about accidents occurring beyond that limit,” he said. Each life guard is paid Rs. 460 per day for his service.
It has often been suggested that they be made permanent employees, with proper insurance coverage as their profession involved high risk situations.