Muhammad Ibrahim Ibne Towhid reveals the problems faced by lifeguards at Cox’s Bazar beach
As one travels to any of Kolatoli, Laboni or Sugandha points of the Cox’s Bazar sea beach, one is likely to find people staring at the sea from an elevated stand. When I had first visited the beach, I thought they were merely visitors enjoying a better angle of the sea. It was later that I realised that these individuals were lifeguards who is responsible for the safety and rescue of swimmers, surfers, and other water sports participants near the beach.
During my recent visit to Cox’s Bazar, I talked to one such lifeguard. Md. Salauddin (28) had an athletic build with keen eyes that looked toward the sea. After handing over the duty to another mate, he shared his story with me.
Salauddin hails from Cox’s Bazar. After quitting studies immediately after school, he took his first job as a personal security personnel at the Bangladesh Cricket Board. After changing multiple professions he came back to his native land and has been working as a lifeguard since 2007 at Cox’s Bazar sea beach.
The lifeguards in the beach first started their operation in 1994 under the banner ‘Yasir lifeguard’ following a drowning incident and successfully ran till 2003. Today, more organisations are working voluntarily and parallel with each other for the welfare of swimmers at the beach. Currently managed by BB Corporation, the lifeguard service is sponsored by the Telecom Company Robi.
Salauddin says, ‘We are working at three points of the beach. The rescue team has two parts. The one sitting in the elevated platform is a spotter. Each spotter has an area demarked to look for any people drowning. After spotting an accident, he sends a signal to the lifeguard standing at the beach by whistling, waving his hand or showing a flag. The rescue runner rushes to the victim instantly and brings the person safely to shore. In case, the lifeguard faces difficulty, the spotter rushes to the spot carrying lifejackets on sea bikes, rescue boat or speed boats.’
Salauddin explained that a person can drown for three reasons. Firstly the beach is not uniform at water level; there is an island which is not visible during ebb. For this reason the water level also varies in different parts of the beach. If a person cannot identify the depth of a spot, the swimmer is likely to drown.
Secondly, the sea forms a strong current all of a sudden at any point of the day, which is so strong that even a strong building can be washed away by the massive force. Lastly, people who cannot swim, often goes to the sea with the help of tires, tubes and plastic objects. If these plastic or rubber floating objects has a leak or a person falls from it, then an accident or drowning may occur.
Salauddin and other lifeguards have to work for long hours. He says, ‘We work from 8:00am till 6:00pm. During these 10 hours, we have to be continuously alert.’
Lifeguards shared with New Age Xtra that accidents are comparatively less during the winter season. ‘However, this season we have already had five incidents,’ says Salauddin. ‘I was involved in two incidents in which I could save the victims.’
Another lifeguard says, ‘The highest number of incidents occurs during the rainy season. Nearly every 15 minutes, there is an accident. We do not even get time to take our meals then.’
Although the lifeguards are not liable for any accidents, they receive partial blame for not being able to save the life of a person during unfortunate circumstances. Salauddin shares, ‘Two years earlier, it was reported in the media that a death occurred in Cox’s Bazar beach. However, no such death took place during our watch. The accident took place at Inani beach where there is no lifeguard and we found the body at Himchhari beach.’
Also, there is no one to look after the wellness of the lifeguard. ‘Despite all of us being trained swimmers and surfers, we are poorly paid,’ says Salauddin. He adds, ‘The government does not have any rescue team of their own. But as our organisation is voluntary, no other party comes to extend their hands. We are all working here voluntarily with no insurance or any other benefits.’