By Evie Andreou
THE DROWNING of a 48-year-old Lithuanian tourist at Paphos’ notorious Venus Beach on Sunday has prompted renewed calls for tougher preventative safety measures in an area that has seen 14 people drown in the last decade.
The six-kilometre long stretch of coastline – from the Tombs of Kings in Kato Paphos to Potima in Kissonerga – is known for its rip currents and high waves.
Venus Beach, where the tourist and her 49-year-old husband were swimming, is the most dangerous. The couple got into difficulty in the rough seas and started calling for help. Other swimmers ran to assist the couple, and managed to bring out to shore her husband who was conscious. The woman was pulled out unconscious a little later.
The couple, who had arrived in Cyprus on May 28 for holidays, was transferred to the Paphos General Hospital where the doctors verified the woman’s death. Her husband’s condition is serious but out of danger.
There are no lifeguards on Venus Beach, which took its name from the nearby hotel unit, because it is not an official public beach. It is deemed highly dangerous due to its rip currents and high waves, and Paphos municipality has installed red flags and enormous warning signs in five languages at the beach as a preventive measure.
Andreas Chrysanthous, president of the Paphos Beaches Committee, said on Monday that as it is not a public beach, lifeguards would refuse to be stationed there for fear of being blamed if they failed to help a swimmer in difficulty in such turbulent waters.
Chrysanthous said that the municipality was doing everything in its power to inform and protect the public when it came to Venus Beach in particular.
Last year a chain was installed in the sea for swimmers to hold on to in case they were swept away by a current, but the chain was itself carried away in the winter by strong waves. A replacement is due to be in place by the middle of the month.
He said that last year alone 40 rescue missions were carried out on other beaches falling in the jurisdiction of Paphos municipality.
“And I am only giving numbers for incidents that were recorded in the beaches of the Paphos municipality’s jurisdiction, not of the whole area,” Chrysanthou said, adding that already this season two serious rescue missions have taken place where the lifeguards had to use the jet skis to rescue swimmers.
“And the season has only just begun,” said Chrysanthou.
He added that numerous discussions over the years had focused on the need for breakwaters and a project had been prepared by the communication and works ministry, but there are currently no funds to finance the project.
He called for the government to act on suggestions put forward by the former communications minister, the late Tassos Mitsopoulos, that the project could be financed from EU cohesion or structural funds.
But coastal engineer, Xenia Loizidou, said that breakwaters were not the right solution for the area with its rocky beaches and rip currents.
“Breakwaters create currents of their own and their presence creates a false sense of security which is even worse because that would attract people to the beaches without having actually solved the problem and put them in danger,” she said.
She said that instead of expecting the government to find funding for a multi-million euro project more focus should be given on budget distribution.
She said that the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) should increase its budget for lifeguards and beach safety so that municipalities could afford better equipment – such as jet skis – for their lifeguards to rescue swimmers in extreme weather conditions.
Regarding the lack of lifeguards on some beaches, she said it was unthinkable to pronounce an area touristic but not place a lifeguard there because it was not technically a public beach.
Other measures she said could be the installation of floating nets in the sea which swimmers could hold on to, or the creation of lagoons by cutting off the deeper area of the sea where the rip currents are located.
Daily newspaper, Politis, reported on Monday that the owners of the Venus Beach hotel had prepared a study seven years ago with proposals for protection measures and were willing to cover a part of the costs, but their proposal was turned down by the authorities.
Chrysanthous said earlier drownings had led to suggestions in 2010 that the beach should be closed off but legal obstacles prevented this. The Paphos District Office said access to the beach could not be restricted and Paphos municipality’s only option was to pressure the government to proceed with the breakwater project or to find an alternative solution.
Andreas Odysseos, member of the Paphos District Officer’s office, confirmed that the Paphos municipality’s demand to close down the beach was denied in 2010 as there is no legal framework for putting a beach off limits or forbidding entry, but he said that the municipality does have the right, according to article 5A of the law on the protection of beaches, to ask the Cabinet to allow the enclosure of the beach for reasons of public interest.