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10 Dec 2017

Richards Bay beach safety concerns

Dave Savides (Zululand Observer) Picture: Dave Savides

Plenty of problems loom ahead of beach holiday season

Bather safety topped the agenda at the uMhlathuze Disaster Management Advisory Forum (DMAF) meeting on Thursday.

With a number of child drownings already reported, and bumper crowds expected to descend on the city’s beaches this summer, Alkantstrand lifeguards may simply not have the resources to cope.

With only seven lifesavers on the permanent staff, a budget has been approved for 27 additional, trained lifeguards – but these are proving difficult to recruit.

With other KZN beach venues offering longer hours plus overtime, part-time lifeguards are choosing to head south to make extra cash over the season, and to date only 13 casual lifeguards have been enlisted.

‘If we don’t get the numbers we need we will have to place unqualified recruits in the Bay Hall area to act as marshalls,’ said Beach Manager Shakier Hiraman.

His challenges will start early this month, when as many at 40 000 people could flock to Alkantstrand on 16 December for the annual Beach Festival, which this year is being outsourced.

As usual, the biggest burden will be on 26 December and 1-2 January, when traffic congestion will add to the potential drowning problem.

‘Last year it took two hours for an ambulance to move from Alkantstrand to the Bay Hall to attempt resuscitation after vehicles blocked the entire route,’ said Hiraman.

He added that, while the lifeguards now have a new rubber duck, the arrival of a jetski – an urgent requirement for swift surf rescues – has been delayed until the end of the holidays owing to tender issues.

 

Reputation at stake

On top of this is a call to escalate security at the beach ahead of the imminent SALGA Games (7-10 December).

‘Being held at the coast, athletes are going to head for the ocean as soon as their events are over, which may be after the lifeguards have knocked off for the day,’ City of uMhlathuze Disaster Manager Lindani Dladla told the meeting.

‘The reputation of the municipality is at stake – we would hate for there to be a drowning.’

Attendees had at the start of the meeting voiced discontent that no proper safety debriefing had been held after the 2016 beach festive season, with fears that the same mistakes would be made.

And ahead of these holidays, planning meetings have been few and far between, with significant role players absent and few decision makers round the table.

It was also claimed that mass events are often approved by council without first consulting officials.

 

Bay Hall and T-jetty problems

While bathing is officially not allowed in the Bay Hall/Pelican Island area, it was conceded it would be impossible to prevent this.

These waters notoriously rate highest in season drowning fatalities owing to the holes and sudden depth changes underfoot.

Aside from potential lifeguard shortages and traffic congestion, there is no infrastructure and the ongoing presence of a large hippo – which is regularly the target of thrown bottles and even gunshots – has added concern.

‘My lifeguards are nervous about entering the water if the hippo is nearby and I will have no hesitation in banning bathing if the animal is anywhere in the vicinity,’ said Hiraman.

He also expressed concern that the T-jetty section has become increasingly popular.

‘This is a working area for the dredger and we still have kids jumping off the jetty. Last year three of them suffered broken femurs.’

He requested landowners TNPA to erect barriers or provide extra security.06