By Bejay Browne
LOCAL authorities in Paphos are concerned over what further action, if any, can be taken to prevent further deaths off a deadly stretch of coastline which has seen 13 people drown in less than a decade.
Last Friday, the sea claimed its latest victim – a 53-year-old Russian tourist – who drowned while swimming 50 metres from the coast in the sea between Kissonerga and Chloraka. Police said the incident happened at around 9am, as the man was swept away by strong waves.
Andreas Chrysanthou, head of Paphos municipality beaches committee, said in addition to the 13 fatalities, there have also been hundreds of near-drownings in the last ten years, with around 40 in recent months. He said most of these victims were guests staying at hotels and tourist apartments in the area.
“According to the lifeguard association, they performed 700 rescue missions all over the republic last year and more than 50 of them were in this specific stretch of water in Paphos,” Chrysanthou said.
“This coastline is very dangerous and is not suitable for swimming. There are so many beautiful beaches more suitable for swimming in Paphos.”
The deadly stretch of coast – with its rip currents and high waves – runs for about three kilometres from Chlorokas to Kissonerga in a popular tourist area where more than 15 large hotels and hotels complexes are found. In addition, a new hotel complex is also under construction in the area.
Chrysanthou said the Paphos municipality has taken every possible measure to warn the public of the dangers of swimming in the area and to ensure their safety. There are huge signs in place all along the shoreline in multiple languages informing people of the dangerous rip currents, as well as red flags and buoys and ropes in the sea to aid those who get into difficulty. There is no designated lifeguard on duty because the area has been officially declared as unsuitable for swimming and extremely dangerous.
Chrysanthou said that just two hours after the latest tragedy last Friday, he spotted more than 60 people venturing in and out of the sea. Chrysanthou had decided to visit the danger spot immediately after the drowning to see if it had shocked people enough to stop them entering the water.
“I spoke to a number of people on the beach that day, to try and find out if they’re aware of the dangers here – and if they were paying attention to all of the warning signs,” he said.
He described how one family – a couple and their teenage daughter on holiday from Greece – didn’t take the situation seriously at all.
“The teenager said she considered herself a strong swimmer, so she would be OK, she was laughing,” Chrysanthou said.
“I said this is a serious and not a laughing matter. I asked her not to go into the water. I explained that it doesn’t matter if you can swim or not, there is a dangerous rip current here.”
Chrysanthou said the local authorities are fighting this mentality and lack of basic judgement, which is putting people’s lives in danger.
“There is a blatant disregard for their own lives as they chose to swim in a dangerous area, despite an array of enormous signs which highlight the dangers,” he said.
Although one option would be to declare this part of the coastline a restricted area, Chrysanthou said this would be difficult as legal challenges would be mounted by hotels and other tourist complexes in the area which would oppose the move at the high court, as a restriction of freedom.
At least 15 hotels and holiday apartments are located close to this dangerous stretch of coastline. Some even advertise that they are situated close to a beach.
Representatives of hotels nearest to these beaches were reluctant to comment on the story. One hotel representative, who did not want to be named, said that warning signs are in place but added that the beaches are public areas and not privately owned by the hotels.
But some visitors believe more should be done by the industry to warn guests of the dangers.
Gerald Bruton, 73, from near Bath in the UK, told the Sunday Mail this week he was shocked by his experiences during a three week stay with his wife at a hotel close to the dangerous stretch of coastline. He said he witnessed five people having to be rescued from the sea in just three days. The first two were lucky to be alive.
“The first week we were here a man was brought out of the sea mid-morning by the man who looks after the hotel’s swimming pool towels. The man was virtually lifeless and he was given first aid on the sand, luckily he recovered,” Bruton recalled.
The following morning another male swimmer got into difficulties. Bruton said he was swimming close to the buoys in the sea when he became “like lead in the water”.
“A couple went out with the hotel life guard and they brought him in. I thought he was dead. He was in a terrible state. One of the rescuers from the hotel was good at first aid and they managed to bring him around, got an ambulance and took him to hospital. By evening he was back in the hotel, so he recovered,” Bruton said.
Later in the day two more people were rescued from the treacherous sea, and a few days later another swimmer was dragged out of the water, making five incidents in total.
Bruton said he and other guests were left shaken by the whole experience. He added that he and his wife had known about the dangerous waters before their visit but only because their daughter had come across the information from a customer review on a travel website.
“Nobody from the hotel warned us and they didn’t give us any information during our stay either,” Bruton said.
Despite seeing the signs on the beach, Bruton said he did go for a dip when the water was calm.
“I took advice from locals about when it’s OK to swim. When there were big waves, I only paddled up to my knees.”
The holidaymaker said he was particularly worried about seeing parents taking small children into the water.
“Some of those waves coming in here could sweep them out of your hands and they’d be gone,” he said.
One suggestion put forward by locals – but which authorities say may be too extreme – is to place on the beach a board with the total number of drownings.
Bruton said this could be effective. “It may make them stop and think,” he said.
Chrysanthou said that a meeting will take place with police in about three weeks’ time to decide if even more signs should be erected, or if another course of action should be taken.
“This is a delicate matter as some local businesses are concerned that action may damage business, but we are dealing with human lives and we have to do something,” Chrysanthou said.
The Paphos beaches committee, local businesses and residents still say that the only real solution for the deadly stretch of coastline would be to construct costly wave barriers.
“The ultimate solution is to implement the government study to gradually build wave barriers along the coastline from the castle in Kato Paphos to Saint Georges in Peyia,” said the beach official.
This is a stretch of about 25km and would be divided into seven separate areas. All stakeholders would have to contribute financially.
“The first area should be the deadly stretch, which is about three kilometres,” he said.
He said this section would cost around three million euros with the whole project costing between 30 and 35 million euros.