Cape Town - This year’s holiday season has been one of the deadliest around the Western Cape coastline, with about 20 drownings in December.
Lee Croeser, 23, club captain of the False Bay Surf Lifesaving Club, who is based at Sunrise Beach in Muizenberg, said this had been one of their worst and most taxing summers yet in terms of incidents, with most involving riptides.
“We had 15 rescues on Boxing Day alone and another 10 on New Year’s Day. I myself had five to six rescues, so we were kept busy a lot.”
Croeser said the biggest challenge had been the large influx of visitors to the beaches and the lack of knowledge some of them had of the tides.
A number of people had visited beaches drunk, which caused a lot of problems as individuals would become unruly and would not listen to lifeguards. Croeser added that some beachgoers refused to swim in designated safe swimming zones.
“We put up flags at certain areas to notify the public that the water is safe from riptides but some still go and swim outside the safe zone,” said Croeser.
Chairman of Western Province Lifesaving Martin Williams said that during the holiday season, especially with the large number of public holidays, there was often a strain on lifeguard resources.
“Under normal circumstances we do have enough lifeguards, but then there are extreme situations in the holidays where we can have up to 150 000 people on our beaches, and then there are never enough lifeguards and it can be overwhelming.”
Williams said that although lifeguards (with the exception of volunteers) were reasonably compensated by the City of Cape Town through the peak season from the beginning of October to April, there was sometimes a demand for higher wages as he said that “it is not the easiest job”.
“We would like provision of permanent facilities and shelters for lifeguards, as some of them sit in inclement weather and are open to the elements. We are in constant discussion with the City of Cape Town and the Ratepayers Association.”
Croeser’s advice to the public was: “Listen to lifeguards. Some people complain that we are aggressive sometimes, but we are just doing our jobs to protect you.”
Meanwhile the body of the diver who went missing off the coast of Smitswinkel Bay on Saturday was found inside a shipwreck late on Sunday afternoon.
The 56-year-old and a group of friends had been diving at the MV Rock Eater wreck near the Cape Point beach. The bulky wreck – dug into the seabed almost 34m underwater – is one of the biggest along the Cape’s coast, much larger than the nearby wrecked fishing boats of Orotava and Princess Elizabeth.
National Sea Rescue Institute spokesman Craig Lambinon said that when the diver’s friends resurfaced, he was not with them.
Rescue efforts were called off on Saturday evening and teams resumed their searched on Sunday morning.