The northeast coast, stretching from Taipei County's Rueifang (瑞芳) to Ilan County's Tou-cheng (頭城), is one of the most popular areas to visit in Taiwan. There were some 1,831,000 visits to the principal 15 scenic spots last year and 530,000 visits up to May this year. At the same time, however, the waters are dangerous and drowning incidents in these areas regularly make the headlines.
As a result, the Northeast Coastal Scenic Area Administration (東北角海岸國家風景區管理處) has set up a new lifeguard training course to create more lifeguards ahead of the wave of people setting off to do water activities that are expected during the mid-summer months.
The 20 trainees, mostly in their 20s and able to swim at least 200m, will have finished the four-weekend, 64-hour course next Sunday and join, temporarily, the Red Cross Organization Taipei County Branch Northeast Coast Life Saving Crew (紅十字會台北縣支會東北角救生隊), a group of 41 volunteer lifeguards living in Taipei County.
"This year we required the managers of privately owned scenic spots, such as Long Dong Wan Ocean Park (龍洞灣海洋公園) and Yenliao Seaside Park (鹽寮海濱公園) to send at least one employee to be trained. After finishing the course, the 20 trainees will have to participate in three rescue missions before they can receive the lifeguard certificate issued by the Red Cross Organization," said Hsu Yuan-feng (許源豐), chief of the Northeast Coastal Scenic Area Police Force.
The Administration set up a similar training course for paramedics last year, with this year's course scheduled for September. Scenic spot managers are also required to send their employees to the course. "The private sector is more efficient at water safety, if provided with proper training. That's why we set up the program," Hsu said.
Presently, the managers of private tourists destinations have already stationed lifeguards by their swimming pools. On a typical weekend at Long Dong Wan Ocean Park, for example, up to a dozen lifeguards oversee the two or three operating swimming pools. There are, however, only five of these lifeguard-patrolled areas, out of 14 such scenic spots along the Northeast Coast. Some popular beaches such as Fulong Waterfront Park (福隆海濱公園), Chinshawan (金沙灣) and Honeymoon Bay (蜜月灣) are officially closed and therefore have no lifeguards.
The most accident-prone area, according to the North Coast Guard Bureau, Coast Guard Administration, Excutive Yuan, (行政院海巡署北部地區巡防局) is the coastline between Keelung (基隆) and Yehliu (野柳), where large numbers of anglers gather, particularly before and after typhoons, when the waves bring in large amounts of fish. The number of drowned anglers far exceeds that among swimmers and regular tourists.
"With anglers, the police usually advise them to wear life vests and not to stay too close to the water, but that seldom stops them. During typhoons the police can issue warning tickets under the Law on Disaster Prevention and Rescue (災害防救法), but when there are no typhoons, there's nothing the police can do," Hsu said.
A widespread misconception that has caused delays in the rescue of stricken swimmers, is that they dial 119, the number of the fire department, when it's the Coast Guard Administration that deals with water disasters and is closer to the coastline than fire stations. To tackle the problem, the north coast guard set up a 118 hotline early last year, but a lack of promotion means many people are unaware of this initiative.