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Water safety

Swimmers who flout red flag warnings in Spain face fines of up to €3,000

Authorities in Xàbia in Spain’s Alicante province hope that the penalties will boost water safety

This year Spain has seen a 14.66% spike in drowning deaths, with 305 people dying in the water from January to July, according to unofficial figures from the country’s lifeguard association, the RFESS. To combat the problem, various municipalities around Spain have decided to fine people who disregard safety warnings.

A lifeguard on duty in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz.
A lifeguard on duty in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz.

Last year, for example, the popular vacation destination of Xàbia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast decided to penalize swimmers who enter the water when a red warning flag is displayed to the tune of €750.

“Despite the red flag, people say it’s not that bad and go in,” said authorities in Xàbia of the move to fine offenders on its beaches, where invisible undertows can make conditions treacherous.

Unfortunately, Spaniards only respond to fines, as is the case with traffic accidents

Luis Miguel Pascual, water safety expert

Since last year, all beaches in the area have been patrolled by police who, unlike lifeguards, are able to issue fines. To date, only one person has been hit with a sanction.

“Unfortunately, Spaniards only respond to fines, as is the case with traffic accidents. If there were no cameras, people would speed more,” said Luis Miguel Pascual, director of research at Spain’s water safety and rescue association AETSAS.

Xàbia is not the only place in Spain to issue fines to swimmers who disregard safety warning. In San Bartolomé de Tirajana, a municipality on the island of Gran Canaria, fines range from €750 to €1,500. This is because their actions put both “swimmers themselves and the people who have to rescue them” at risk, according to local tourism councilor José Carlos Álamo. According to Álamo, people have stopped ignoring safety warnings and it is now two years since anyone has been fined for doing so.

In Spain, the decision as to whether or not to fine swimmers who flout the rules is down to individual town halls. In the municipality of Níjar in the southern Spanish province of Almería, people who disregard the red flag warning and have to be rescued are not just fined €750 but are also liable for the cost of their rescue.

However, the most expensive place to ignore safety warnings in Spain is on the beaches of Cudillero in the northern province of Asturias. There, repeat offenders could face a fine of up to €3,000.

Spain’s royal lifesaving federation has accused of authorities of passivity on the issue of water safety

According to AETSAS, there were around 6,000 incidents in the water requiring rescue in Spain last year.

In a recent report, the RFESS noted “a certain passivity” on the part of public administrations on the matter [of water safety].” Discussing the rise in drowning deaths in Spain in 2017, the association noted that good weather may have played a role but called for more in-depth studies to be carried out.

English version by George Mills.

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