Bay Watch: Vietnam coastal towns struggle to save lives

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Vung Tau's Back Beach

A serious shortage of lifeguards and lifesaving equipment is mainly responsible for many fatal drowning accidents at popular coastal resort towns in Vietnam, most particularly Nha Trang and Vung Tau.

A Tuoi Tre report early this week quoted police in the southern town of Vung Tau as saying that 41 people have drowned while bathing at local beaches since 2011, mostly at its main Back Beach.

Tourists drowned not only because they failed to stay away from dangerous areas, but also because sufficient lifeguard were not deployed, police said.

 Pham Khac To, deputy director of the management board of tourist areas in Vung Tau, said that the Back Beach rescue force had 27 lifeguards and three health workers.

The number of lifeguards is too small, given that the beach is nearly 10 kilometers long and is visited by tens of thousands of people during holidays, To said.

Although local seaside resorts with beachfront areas have their own lifeguards, many of them are also asked to do other jobs including cleaning and acting as bodyguards, he said. 

Tran Ngoc Sang, who has worked for the rescue force for 21 years, told the newspaper that his team lacks necessary equipment and gear to do the job well. They do not have canoes, specialized life buoys, swimfins and even ambulances, he said.

Without canoes, they would not be able to reach victims in time, although they could see them, he added. 

Swimfins help enhance their swimming speed and save energy during rescue efforts, but the team does not have any, he said.

Nguyen Tan Hung, another lifeguard, agreed with Sang, saying that canoes are most important because they allow the lifeguards to quickly reach people who enter dangerous areas.  .

However, all the lifesaving stations along the beach have to share just one canoe, he said.

Le Van Tien, yet another lifeguard, showed a life buoy they'd made for one person, saying specialized lifebuoys can carry three to four people.

 If they had more canoes and other lifesaving equipment, they could save a lot of people, Sang reiterated. 

He also pointed out that although beaches in Vung Tau post signboards or black flags identifying areas considered dangerous by authorities,  the warning text is written in small letters and difficult to see. There are problems with the placement of the signboards as well, he said.

Another problem, according to Vung Tau police, is that the rescue team works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and many tourists love bathing very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Tran Van Truong, director the tourism areas' management board, agreed, saying six of eight deaths in waters under his agency's control last year happened very early in the morning. The others were two foreigners who went to bathe in the sea at night, he added.

Worse still, in some cases, after victims were rescued by the lifeguards, they ended up dying in a taxi because there was no , but ended up dying in a taxi, because there was no ambulance to rush them to the hospital, To said.

He also said that resort owners should also take responsibility for drowning accidents

At the moment, there are no regulations to punish resort owners for letting accidents happen, so they are heavily reliant on lifeguards hired by local authorities.  

Meanwile, responding to a question about the ,lack of lifesaving equipment, Truong Thi Huong, vice chairwoman of Vung Tau People's Committee, said it was not because the town cannot afford it.

The Vung Tau tourism area management board has to estimate the needed budget and make proposals to the committee, she said.

"I have reminded the board to do so many times, but they are very slow," Huong said.

Same problems

The central coastal town of Nha Trang is also facing similar problems ithe Tuoi Tre report said. 

Truong Kinh, director of Nha Trang Bay Management Board, told the newspaper that when he took over,  the town's rescue force had "many problems," including a lack of skilled lifeguards.

Many of the existing lifeguards do not have adequate swimming, diving and lifesaving skills, Kinh said.

Two canoes, which are their only equipment, often break down and move very slowly, he added.

Kinh said since he took over the job, five drowning deaths have happened,.

He said has proposed to the town's authorities that they recruit more lifeguards and cooperate with the Khanh Hoa Province's Red Cross Association in training the lifeguards.

Seaside resorts and hotels need to train their staff and equip their establishments with what is needed to ensure their customer's safety. They cannot rely keep depending on rescue teams managed by local administrations,,They can't rely totally on the lifesaving team, Kinh stressed.

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