Putting more lifeguards on Dubai beaches not feasible, official says

Remarks come after two Britons and an Indian man drowned last weekend.

DUBAI // Introducing more lifeguards on the emirate’s public beaches is not a feasible solution at present, a municipal official has said, following three drownings in rough seas last weekend.

The 50-year-old British nationals Martin Hayle, a tourist, and Paul Gradon, a Dubai resident, perished off the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) open beach in separate incidents. Another Dubai resident, Haja Mohammed Ismailuddin, a 26-year-old Indian, died at Umm Suqeim 1 Beach.

The measures the civic body takes to ensure the safety of swimmers was already in line with global practices, said Ibrahim Mohammed Juma, who heads the municipality’s coastal engineering and waterway management office. He described last week’s deaths as tragic but said the public should take warnings and water safety regulations seriously.

“Currently I cannot say Dubai Municipality will increase lifeguards all along beaches, but we do have certain initiatives,” said Mr Juma. “We clearly distinguish between beaches with and without lifeguards through safety instruction signboards. This is a worldwide practice where some beaches have lifeguard towers, fully equipped with a flag system and other public beaches do not.”

Mr Juma said his department was in talks with police and the relevant government bodies to discuss various initiatives. He did not provide specifics.

Some of those on the beach last weekend were more circumspect about their conduct, erring on the side of safety. Karam Al Shaar, a student from Syria, said he takes weather conditions seriously.

“I remember that Friday,” he said while playing volleyball with friends on the JBR beach. “I was running on the beach but avoided swimming because the weather was unsuitable. What’s the point of losing your life?”

Visitors to the same beach yesterday said that while the public should be held accountable, authorities should increase the number of lifeguards.

“We always see patrol cars but that’s not enough,” said Yasmin Hashim, a Dubai resident from Iraq. “We were there before the drownings happened and decided to sunbathe instead of swim.”

Four vehicles, including police, coastal rescue and municipal patrols, were on duty on the open beaches on the day of the drownings, Mr Juma said. In addition, a red-flag system adopted by beach resorts in the JBR area were raised that day. Some hotels also have on duty lifeguards.

Those who witnessed the incidents said they had left an impact upon them. Firas Hassan, a Dubai student who hails from Palestine, was at the JBR beach last week and said conditions were such that swimming was hazardous.

“The waves were so high but people still swam,” he said. “We heard screams and people panicked. Police and ambulances rushed to the scene.” One man was removed from the scene by helicopter before dozens of onlookers, he said.

Questions have been raised by the public as to why no lifeguards are present on some public beaches in the wake of the tragedies. Mr Juma stressed that inspectors and rescue teams are always on patrol warning people against entering the water in dangerous conditions, advice he said was not always heeded.

“Even at beaches where we have lifeguards working until after sunset reminding people ‘no swimming at night’, people still swim,” Mr Juma said.

That held true yesterday as well. Many beachgoers could be seen walking past the safety signboards and did not stop to read the instructions. Aya Baker, an Egyptian lawyer based in Dubai, noticed that many people ignored warnings and swam in dangerous weather.

“The concerned authorities should put lifeguards and flags just for extra precaution,” she said. “How about putting a safety limit in the sea so swimmers cannot go beyond a certain point?”

Mr Juma said that warnings and signage could only go so far to prevent more deaths. He gave an example of an inspector who reported he had given a verbal warning to an individual while on beach patrol only to find that same individual later had ignored the caution with tragic consequences.

“The man drowned,” he said. “The inspector had explained to him the rough sea condition and that there was a very strong current. The problem is a lot of people are not obeying instructions.”

Mr Juma stressed that beaches are safe for swimmers who take the proper precautions.

"Obey the rules. It's very simple," he said. "We are, at the end of the day trying to save lives."