TEXT OF THE ARTICLE: CORK was once described as the Venice of the Ireland. Its streets and houses rose from the myriad waterways that weave through our city and make it so vibrant. However, in 2013, the last year that official statistics are available, there were 91 fatal drowning accidents in Ireland and out of these, 18 happened in Cork, with four in the city and 14 in the county. On Monday evening last week, two local fishermen, Keith Olden from Blarney Street and Ian Drummy from Blackpoool, helped to prevent a near drowning by the Mardyke foot bridge by throwing a lifebuoy to a struggling man. This kept him afloat in the deceptively heavy current until he was rescued minutes later by the emergency services in front of the Mercy Hospital. Passers-by, emergency services and the ringbuoys that are so diligently maintained by the river, saved the man’s life. The incident served as a reminder about the vigilance and respect that living so close to the water demands of all of us. This year, eight drowning deaths have been reported in the media nationally, and three of these have been in Cork. John Leech, Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety (www.iws.ie) believes that most drowning accidents are preventable with the right education. “People are drowning every year unnecessarily and education can change that. People just are not aware of the dangers. “The aquatic environment is complex and dynamic, there are so many different environments – rivers, lakes, coastal areas –that are affected differently by weather and tidal forces, and people use them in so many ways for both work and leisure that people have to be informed,” says Leech. And statistics reveal that rivers are by far the most dangerous aquatic environment, and our own lovely Lee sadly has the highest percentage of drownings in the country. “Most drownings occur in rivers, and those who drown are mostly male and mostly local to that area,” says Leech. “Being an island nation you might expect most drownings to happen in salt water but rivers are by far the most dangerous with 62% of drownings happening inland and 37% of those deaths happen in rivers,” says Leech. Rivers are particularly dangerous after heavy rainfall, Leech warns, as the water runs faster than usual and many accidents are caused by snagging – when a person gets tangled in a submerged shopping trolley or by branches or boulders in the water – and the strength of the water does not permit them to release themselves. “Now is the most dangerous time for rivers,” Leech adds, and July to September predictably have the highest figures for drowning as they are the busiest times for people to be on or near the water. “We need to put greater emphasis on inland water safety,” says Leech. “In 2013 a statutory instrument was established to mandate inland lifeboats, so thankfully we now have a lifeboat in Mallow and in lakes and rivers around the country. Overall, the trend is decreasing, drownings have decreased over the last 15 years but the figures are not receding as fast as we would like,” says Leech. And he believes that most drowning accidents are preventable with the right education. “The Primary Aquatics Water Safety programme (PAWS) which is taught in schools is growing stronger,” says Leech. Although it forms part of the Physical Education Strand of the Primary School Curriculum it is not compulsory in schools. “So schools can choose to teach a sport instead of water safety, when really water safety education should be mandatory,” says Leech. “But more schools are taking it up which is great because saving lives from drowning really just comes down to education. Unless people change attitudes about the value of water safety education our drowning stats will not decrease,” he adds. Leech advises that life-jackets should be worn within three metres of the water. “A lot of accidents happen when casual boaters or anglers go out to enjoy the water without lifejackets or proper information,” says Leech. “Life-jackets should always be worn when fishing, even when fishing on the shore line, be it on rivers or lakes or on the sea. The ones who wear life-jackets are the ones who survive,” says Leech. Anyone who has even casually perused the papers or listened to media reports in recent years may have noticed the repeating tragedies of foreign nationals drowning while fishing on Irish shores. “Unfortunately, we have had too many deaths with people from the Baltic States drowning while they fished here. Many of these people were keen anglers but they were used to fishing in the Baltic Sea, which is really more like a big lake, it does not have the swell that we have on the west coast of Ireland. “And a very high proportion of people drowning over the last few years have done so in this way, by being caught by waves that they did not expect,” says Leech. Sergeant Ray Dunne at Anglesea Garda Station warns that anywhere on the river banks can be dangerous as the current can be extremely strong. “Particularly by Lancaster Quay, there is a section where the wall is quite low. A few years ago after particularly heavy rainfall and flooding a man staggered on the street, lost his footing and unfortunately fell into the river which swept him away,” says Sergeant Dunne. “Whenever there is bad, stormy, wet weather or spring tides, the river swells and moves more quickly so it is wise to be extra vigilant at these times. And when the tide is falling and the river is going out there is also an extra strong current,” he adds. Sergeant Dunne says that it is difficult to put an exact figure on water accidents in the city as they happen quite sporadically. “But the bottom line is that you can never be careful enough where the water is concerned, ”says Sergeant Dunne. If you ever have to call 999 for emergency services, the receptionist asks which branch you want to speak to – which can be confusing for a panicked mind – as a list of Gardai, Coastguard, Fire Brigade and Ambulance are calmly offered to you while you fear that the drowning person could be gulping for their last breath. Sergeant Dunne advises asking for the Gardai when in doubt as they will forward the information to all relevant departments from there. An IWS report says: We are an island nation with ready access to the sea and with numerous inland bodies of water. It is therefore essential that, if we are to enjoy this natural asset, we learn to respect it. This statement neatly sums up the healthy attitude that we could all adopt towards the water that we are so lucky to have here in Cork.
"Quick fishermen save man's life in River Lee drama" Did you know that there are on average 135 drownings in Ireland every year? That’s more than eleven per month. Here is an eye opening article in the Irish Examiner that highlights the dangers of inland waters! “Being an island nation you might expect most drownings to happen in salt water but rivers are by far the most dangerous with 62% of drownings happening inland and 37% of those deaths happen in rivers,” - John Leech, CEO of Irish Water Safety.