By Bejay Browne
Three breakwaters, at a cost of two million euros, are finally due to be constructed in Paphos this year, which will halt more than a decade of drownings along a deadly stretch of coastline, according to the head of the local beaches committee.
Last Sunday, a 58-year-old Polish tourist was the latest victim to lose his life after swimming from an infamous beach in the area which doesn’t have a lifeguard as it is not designated as safe for swimming by the authorities.
The holidaymaker was found floating in the sea and, despite the efforts of a lifeguard from a nearby hotel, was pronounced dead at Paphos general hospital.
Tafoi ton Vasileon (Tombs of the Kings), its official name, is part of the deadly stretch of coastline and found just off the Tombs of the Kings’ road in Paphos, which is home to many of the town’s hotels and hotel apartments. At least 15 people have drowned in the area in the past decade.
When the Sunday Mail visited the deadly spot at around 10 am on Thursday, more than thirty people were already in the sea and on the beach.
Nicos Simillides, the head of the Paphos municipality beaches committee, said that following years of pressure put on the government by Paphos municipality, President Nicos Anastasiades pledged the funds to complete the breakwater project on a visit to the municipality earlier this year.
“The president announced that one of the projects for construction this year is the wave breakers. I expect it will get underway very soon, and I hope that they can finish it before the start of the new season in 2017,” he said. “It can then be a proper swimming area with a life guard, showers, changing rooms and all the other necessities. But the most important thing is a lifeguard.”
The breakwaters will cost around two million euros.
“We can’t do any more as a municipality. This is a very dangerous area, especially if it’s a little windy and particularly for families with children. But as you see, the beach is between two big hotels and people continue to come, although someone died just a few days ago.”
In addition to the 15 deaths over the last 10 years, hundreds of life saving rescues have been carried out by lifeguards from nearby hotels during that time.
Among them is lifeguard Koullis who has worked at a hotel near Tafoi ton Vasileon beach for seven years. He is often alerted when swimmers get into trouble and was the one who tried in vain to save the life of the Polish tourist last week.
“This can be a very dangerous beach, especially when it’s rough and I have rescued many people from here. I help as much as I can, but sometimes there is nothing I can do. People need to read all of the signs here and pay attention to them,” he said.
Simillides said that he has visited the beach on numerous occasions to speak with people and warn them of the dangers. He said that they all tell him that they are ‘strong’ swimmers and that they don’t believe it will happen to them.
“I have also met up with the owners and managers of the hotels and hotel apartments, they have leaflets they put in the rooms telling the guests the beach is dangerous,” he said.
The municipality has also placed a number of ropes in the sea which are visible by the yellow buoys attached to them. They are there as a safety precaution for swimmers if they get caught in the strong current.
“There are strong rip currents here. If you’re stuck in a rip current swim parallel to it, don’t try and head for the beach as it’s very tiring. Try not to panic, relax,” said Koullis. “Swim out of the current to escape, do not swim in the same direction as the current. Then swim parallel and around it and then head for the beach diagonally.”
The lifeguard said that he understands that tourists want to spend time in the sea whilst on holiday.
One such person is James Grady from Scotland. He said that during his week-long stay he has ventured into the deadly stretch and “really enjoyed the big waves”.
Grady had noticed the warning signs, in particular the one referring to the rip current, but he entered the water anyway.
“It made me stop and think about it as I’m not a very good swimmer, but it didn’t stop me going in the water,” he told the Sunday Mail.
When he was informed about the number of drownings and rescues in the area, and the latest death just days ago, he was shocked.
“That’s terrible, I imagined that drowning is usually due to carelessness, you would never imagine it’s due to the current,” he said. “I don’t usually bother with signs. Perhaps they should put that information on the signs as well.”
Grady also couldn’t identify the colour the two flags without looking, and when he realised they are red, he was unsure if it signified danger, “the same as it does in Britain”.
He then expressed his concern for the swimmers in the sea, in particular the ones who were far away from the beach.
“It’s frightening when you think about it,” he said.
Simillides is hoping the new project will get underway by November. It should take five months to complete, each breaker will be 100m in length and constructed with rocks, he said.
Two will run parallel to the beach and the other will run perpendicular, starting from the beach, like a sort of jetty.
“We are waiting for the final approval from the department of the environment, and then the tender process will be announced.”
He stressed that he is determined to do all he can to ensure that the area is ready for the next swimming season of May- October 2017.
Simillides also had a final and important message for swimmers.
“Life is the most important thing, so please use the beaches with the blue flags. In Paphos we have 14 areas with blue flags, and in the specific area looked after by Paphos municipality, six blue flagged beaches. The blue flag means it’s safe, it has a lifeguard, changing room and other facilities.”