Safe in the Seas


By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ The peak tourist season in Bali is July to August. But this year, according to friends in the travel trade, the season is expected to commence in June. This is heartening news for those who depend on tourism for their livelihood. However, along with the hordes of tourists lurks the specter of adventurous and sometimes foolhardy people who willfully disregard the warning signs put up by lifeguards, thus ending in watery graves off the sun-soaked beaches.

Some days ago, a man drowned in full view of onlookers and family members but no one could save the poor soul as he was caught in treacherous currents. Apparently there are no signboards in place warning swimmers of the currents in the lagoon. No red flags or lifeguards.

On hearing the tragic news in Padangbai, I thought it necessary to speak to lifeguards on Kuta Beach to try and understand how such mishaps occur and what should be done to prevent reoccurrences.

My trusted cold-drinks vendor Nyoman took me to a few lifeguards on watch not far from his stand that is opposite Macdonald’s. I met Ketut Arthayasa and Made Ernawan, two strapping young lads dressed in yellow and red gear.

When I spoke about the drowning in Blue Lagoon, they apologized for the tragedy and assured me that if they had been present it would not have occurred. Ketut told me that a fortnight ago he and his colleagues rescued six men and one woman from drowning. Though he was happy that precious lives were saved, Ketut was angry that the people whom he rescued had paid scant regard to the red flag that signals riptides, warning people not to swim in the waters around.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the flags, here’s what they represent:

– The red flag signifies dangerous currents and warns swimmers to keep away from that area. But surfers are allowed to surf in these waters.

– The area between the red and yellow flags is safe for swimmers. No surfer is supposed to be here, for obvious reasons.

While we sat chatting, we could see swimmers and surfers doing exactly what they are not supposed to be doing. Ketut shrugged his shoulders and said that the guards could not possibly handle so many people as they were not law-enforcement personnel but lifeguards. Sadly, whenever a drowning occurs, they are blamed for not preventing it. The two things Ketut carries around are a walky-talky and whistle. The first item is used to keep in contact with the control room and the other to call in errant swimmers and surfers, who very often never heed the calls.

After a brief exchange of words with Made and Ketut, I visited the control room and met Made Suparka, chief instructor of Badung Lifeguards. He was most helpful and over a cup of Bali coffee he told me about his team and the equipment that was urgently needed.

1. The total number of lifeguards for Canggu/Kuta/Uluwatu/Nusa Dua is 110. Whereas the required number is 200.

2. Once a year, Australian lifeguard instructors conduct a 15-day course for them. Made would prefer this be done twice a year.

3. There are six posts spread from Kuta to Jl. Double Six. Some do not have lookout towers, which must be installed at all posts.

4. Binoculars should be provided to all posts.

5. Of the two jetskis that they possess, one needs urgent repairs. In fact, they require one jetski for every post.

6. The lifeguard ambulance is seven years old and often breaks down. It’s the sole medical emergency vehicle for Canngu/Kuta/Uluwatu/Nusa Dua. They urgently need at least four such vehicles – one for each area.

7. Surfers should be fined for straying into areas designated for swimmers as people have been injured in the past. Also, surfers should be fined and/or their surfboards confiscated if they do not return to shore by 7pm, when the lifeguards remove the flags and go off duty for the day.

8. The lifeguards should be taught a smattering of Japanese/Korean/French/Spanish etc. Words like: Danger – don’t swim in this area. This is necessary as in the past, tragedies could have been prevented if the guards had made themselves understood to the foreign tourists.

9. Swimmers, as well as surfers, should enter the water only between 7am and 7pm.

10. The solitary rubber boat or dinghy is woefully inadequate. There should be a minimum of four such boats: One for each area – Canggu, Kuta, Uluwatu and Nusa Dua.

Made’s 10-point program is reflective of the need of the hour. It must be viewed as a constructive suggestion that will help in creating a world-class tourist island destination. The safety of all tourists visiting the isle is of paramount importance in this very important year of – Visit Indonesia. Therefore, these suggestions could also be applied across Bali, in consultation with tour operators/government officials etc.

In the past, I have witnessed tourists arguing with hapless lifeguards about swimming in a particular area. On more than one occasion, the people who rent out the surfboards encourage the tourists who are usually novice surfers to surf in dangerous waters, disregarding the flags. These people must be educated in safety measures and if they do not heed the lessons, they should be penalized, and if need be, their license cancelled.

It has been suggested by my drinks vendor Nyoman that every tourist on the beach be given a multilingual pamphlet of the dos and donts of swimming and surfing. And more importantly, the telephone number to call in the event of an emergency – 0361 755660.

To the above suggestions I would like to add that all surfers should pay Rp5,000 to the control room prior to surfing. This would help in raising much-needed funds for equipment.

We must never forget that the lifeguards are on the beach to save lives. We should give them all the equipment and support to make them 100-percent effective.

At the end of the day, when everyone has returned home to roost and the restless dark waters brush against the shore, let us remember all who have drowned and pray for their souls – whether they are tourists or Balinese.

In the words of Made Supraka, “We want you safe. So let us do our job.”

Note: According to Made, the best months for surfing are July/August and for swimming March/April.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Filed under: Paradox In Paradise

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