20 deaths on Portugal’s beaches this year

LACK OF awareness concerning the dangers of the sea and insufficient consideration for risky conditions have led to 20 people losing their lives at Portugal’s beaches this year.

The official bathing season is not over until the end of this month and statistics prove that swimmers ignoring signage (e.g. safety flags) and irresponsible behaviour continue to be the main reasons for these deaths. Four people died at beaches that are patrolled and the others in areas without a lifeguard or other security. Among the victims, six were foreign visitors.

“These deaths are always regrettable, although it has to be said that the number is not so high considering that during the bathing season around 55 million people visit Portugal’s beaches,” comments Gouveia e Melo, from the public relations office of Marinha Portuguesa, the entity responsible for the Instituto de Socorros a Náufragos (ISN), the institute for emergency assistance at beaches. In June, eight people died, in July four and in August eight.

Accidents often happen when swimmers go into the water when there is a red flag or do not assess the risks. In August, three accidents happened on patrolled beaches and were the result of people being in the water even though a red flag was up. A British man died while attempting to save a child on an inflatable lilo, who had been swept out by the strong current. The month’s other deaths occurred inland, in rivers located in the Minho and Douro at uncontrolled areas.

“We continue to notice that there is a serious problem in terms of lack of awareness. We advise swimming at patrolled beaches, because at the others it is up to the individual to assess the risks alone,”explains Gouveia e Melo.

The reinforcement of resources is not the solution to the problem, considers the public relations representative. “The majority of people die near the beach, where the waves break. Swimmers panic and can die in a matter of two or three minutes. In these cases, the rescue is attempted from the land and, in such circumstances, rescue boats are not appropriate,” says Gouveia e Melo.

Heart attacks, fainting, thermal shocks, which can happen when a person enters the water quickly after being in the sun for a long period, dehydration, apoplexy and low blood sugar conditions can also be the cause of deaths at beaches. The ISN also alerts swimmers to the effects of alcohol and drugs, which can lead to fatal accidents in the water.

“Accidents involving foreigners are very common, especially among visitors from the Nordic countries, because they are not used to strong sun or swimming at the beach, and often do not assess the risks properly,” states the Marinha Portuguesa.