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Tourists warned of risks of swimming in the Med

Ben McPartland · 10 Aug 2015, 13:23

Published: 10 Aug 2015 13:23 GMT+02:00

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Since the beginning of summer at least 68 people have drowned swimming in the waters off France, including 13 on the French Riviera alone.

On Monday the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve are to visit the south of France and meet with emergency services teams who have been called into action scores of times during the holiday period.

One of the dangers of swimming off the coast of France, and especially in the Mediterranean, is that holidaymakers from outside the region are not aware of the risks.

“There is a misunderstanding among the part of the population who are not used to the coastline," Lieutenant Pasqualini, a French firefighter, told Europe 1 radio.

“The Mediterranean has its dangers, its peculiarities, due to the fact the wind can change quickly and without warning, but also because of certain currents, notably near the dykes,” he said.

Sebastian Royer, who coordinates operations for maritime safety organisation Cross Med, told The Local previously that: “holiday makers are more at risk because they don't know the sea like locals do. People who live here know it can be dangerous but often holidaymakers think it is completely safe to swim in the Mediterranean.” 

Despite the Atlantic coast being considered more dangerous due to the stronger currents pulling swimmers out to sea, more drownings generally occur in the Mediterranean, where the wind and waves can be a hazard.

In Brittany and Normandy the dangers are more related to the tides which can rise and fall rapidly and take swimmers by surprise.

One theory is those who swim in the Atlantic are more aware of the dangers but those on holiday in the Mediterranean often fall in to the trap of falsely believing the sea to be safe.

“They are less used to dangerous situations, take more risks and don’t listen to the rescuers,” the team at France’s Ocean Surf Report told Atlantico.fr

Rescuers tasked with policing the beaches have also been forced to warn holidaymakers about the dangers of drinking alcohol, which may be more prevalent in the holiday resorts of the Med.

“People, most often the younger ones, bring alcohol to the beach to have fun and then go into the water, but before they know it they are drifting out to sea,” said Lt. Pasqualini.

Swimmers are advised to stay near aid stations in case they get into difficulty and avoid swimming late at night and early morning. They are also advised to learn of the possible dangerous currents at each beach, which should be displayed at each aid station.

France has witnessed around four drownings a day this summer, but many have occurred away from the beaches as people try to escape the heat swimming in rivers and lakes, which also have their dangers.

One of the incidents saw a British girl drown while on a school trip in central France. 

The British Consulate in Bordeaux has warned nationals on holiday in the area of the dangers of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean where strong currents called "Baïnes" can increase the risk of swimmers getting into trouble.

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Two Britons have already drowned this year.

'Every year, several people drown whilst swimming in the Atlantic Ocean when they are unexpectedly caught in these unusually strong currents," said a statement from the Consulate.

"Even very strong swimmers can be victim to these groundswells which are a particular feature of this coastline. It can be especially dangerous for children who should not be left alone even whilst paddling."

Comprehensive advice for swimming along France's Atlantic Coast can be viewed here.


Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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