Thu, Jul 11, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Mitigating risks in sea activities

By Doong Dong-jiing 董東璟

Time and again, drowning deaths and injuries have occurred during open-water swimming activities in the sea. Another such tragedy happened on June 15, when a morning swimming club member drowned during a mass swim across Penghu Bay (澎湖灣) in Penghu County. Such regrettable events should prompt people to consider whether the sea has to be such a high-risk environment.

Taiwan’s coastline is more than 1,500km long and has many scenic stretches, including sandy beaches that attract large numbers of tourists to take part in seaside leisure activities. Popular marine activities include those that require equipment, such as surfing, canoeing, sailing, sailboarding, jet skiing and standup paddleboarding, and others that need little or no equipment, such as swimming and diving. Activities like these can be seen all around Taiwan every summer. While they can be great fun, from time to time people also see regrettable news about accidents.

Any kind of activity entails risks, and seaside activities are certainly no exception. The risk factors associated with seaside activities include natural factors, such as wind, waves, tides, currents, topology, gradient and living organisms, and human factors, such as a person’s physical condition, and the rules and regulations governing activities and events.

The swimming accident on June 15 led to the death of one swimmer.

This was preceded by a spate of accidents toward the end of May. More than 1,000 people took part in a long-distance swim at Turtle Island (龜山島) in Yilan County, but a sudden change in sea conditions resulted in several people nearly drowning and becoming unconscious, upon which the activity was called off.

At about the same time, during a long-distance swimming event along the Waimushan (外木山) coast in Keelung, 15 swimmers’ strength gave out and they had to be rescued and taken ashore. Another incident took place in waters near Elephant Trunk Rock (象鼻岩) in the Shenao (深澳) area of New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳), where a dozen standup paddleboarders could not paddle back to the shore and had to be rescued by the coast guard.

The most serious accident of all must be the long-distance swimming event that took place in South Bay (南灣) at Kenting in Pingtung County in April 2013, where several hundred of the more than 2,000 swimmers could not swim back to shore, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries.

Considering that accidents like these keep happening, the relevant government agencies should respond by imposing tighter regulations.

Large-scale marine activities often attract hundreds or even more than 1,000 participants. The organizers of such large-scale events are sure to deploy comprehensive safety and lifesaving measures, but accidents still happen.

One reason for this is an insufficient grasp of sea conditions. Even onshore weather can be unpredictable. The weather can be bright and clear at one moment and then suddenly change for the worse. Offshore weather is even more complicated.

The sea surface forms the border between the atmosphere and seawater, making it especially prone to unpredictable changes.

The main risk factors affecting sea-surface activities are wind, waves, tides and currents. Of these, changing tidal levels are the most regular and predictable. Waves are visible to the naked eye, and with modern technology it is possible to forecast waves with some degree of accuracy. As for sea breezes, they also have some regular patterns.

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