Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said Victorians had to begin taking responsibility for their actions when at the beach while understanding that missing millions of swimming lessons throughout the year was taking a toll.
“We’ve had 42 people die as a result of drowning deaths. If you look at the whole 12 months before that, there was 34 people that died. So, already we’ve seen a significant increase in only six-and-a- half months,” Mr Crisp said.
“It’s involved everyone from a young child of 4 years of age, through to a gentleman into his 60s.
“It means on those significant family events birthdays and weddings, there’ll be an empty seat at the table.”
Two men died in separate drowning accidents in Victoria on Saturday. A man died after he was pulled from the water at 13th beach on Saturday afternoon and a different man’s body was found in water off the coast of Anglesea after his boat overturned.
Ten days ago, the state recorded a horror day in the water that left four people dead including a three-year-old child who died later in hospital. On that day, six people were rescued in emergency incidents throughout the state.
Liam Krige, Lifesaving Services general manager at Life Saving Victoria, said the tragic truth about many of the drowning deaths is that they are avoidable.
“The sad reality is that people think it’s not going to happen to them, or that they don’t need to worry about it,” Mr Krige said.
“We knew people were going to be less fit during the coronavirus lockdown, and missing swimming lessons and it’s exactly why we’ve, alongside other emergency services, have scaled up.”
Mr Krige said the rescue efforts undertaken on Sunday at 13th Beach – the site where 24 hours prior someone drowned less than a kilometre away from a patrolled area – underscored the need for people to not take safety for granted and think more critically before entering the water.
“A large portion of these were preventable – if we could get that safety message across if people could heed that safety advice, and people not taking their safety for granted,” Mr Krige said.
“That’s the harsh reality of this – they were less than a kilometre away from a patrolled location, where those lives would not have been in danger.”
Mr Crisp said of the 700 beaches throughout the state, just 67 were patrolled, meaning Victorians needed to take responsibility for their safety.
“You can’t afford to become complacent, no matter where you are,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of summer to go. Do you want there to be an empty seat at your table? Let’s take some good from what we’ve seen with regards to these particular tragedies and learn.”
David Estcourt is a court and general news reporter at The Age.