WITHIN the last two weeks, at least seven people including four fishermen drowned in the sea while swimming and fishing, according to media reports.
The Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA), Fishers Association, and the police, confirm that marine accidents occur almost daily leading to losses of live and properties.
This year also marks a decade since the sinking of MV Spice Islander on 10th September, 2011 leading to the death of hundreds of people. The tragedy was followed by a similar accident when MV Skagit capsized on July 18, 2012 killing many people.
Before those huge accidents in the East African region history, they were ferry accidents in early 2011, 2010, and 2009 in which lives and properties were lost. All the accidents were attributed to negligence, violations of marine transports laws and overloading.
After a probe into all accidents, many reforms in marine transport sector has taken place including enforcement of the laws by all key players: police, custom officers, and sea vessels owners, which include restricting boarding excess passengers.
The number of marine accidents has declined drastically, within the past ten years after the big accidents, thanks to the authorities for keeping an eye to marine transportation to ensure that the laws are observed.
The latest emphasis has been announced by the new Zanzibar Minister for Infrastructure, communication and Transport Ms Rahma Kassim Ali who said ferry boat owners and seaport officers who violate the safety regulations will be held accountable.
While emphasis on observing laws/regulations has been going on well, many people have not paid much attention on promoting and encouraging people to learn how to swim as one of the important preparedness.
During the rescue mission following the accidents, rescuers and divers argue that most people including children died because they did not know how to swim including using lifejacket or anything in the boat which can float.
In Zanzibar most families, at least those living close to the beach allow their children to go and learn how to swim, but after the marine accidents there have been fresh campaign in the islands to encourage adults and children to learn how to swim because it can save your life in marine accidents.
However, there is a proverb in local language ‘Bahari haina hodari’ (literary translated as there is no proficiency in the sea) meaning that even if you can swim, sea remains a threat to anyone travelling, playing, or fishing in it.
There is no official or known data about the number of people including children who die in the sea, but according to stories from people living close to the beaches, coast guards, police, fishers and frequent travellers, there have been frequent death reports in the sea.
People die while crossing from one inhabited island to another to attend school, while fishing, diving/snorkelling, and travelling, while children swimming, and accidents. The deaths are linked to ignorance in detecting dangers, lack of safety equipment, ignoring to observe safety measures, and lack of swimming and rescue skills.
Mr Khamis Hafidh AliSecretary, fishers committee in Nungwi coastal village, Unguja north, says problems in the sea are almost common, but they do not have statistics. People disappear or get drowned while fishing. “We need safety equipment, swimming and rescue skills.
We need lifeguards and life jackets, and rescue boats for safety,” Mr Ali said. It is against this context that some local NGOs in collaboration with foreign counterparts are carrying out swimming classes to local people including children.
A local NGO- ‘the Panje Project,’ in collaboration and support from the United Kingdom (UK) charity Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), has been providing aquatic survival training to children in Nungwi since 2013.
It is estimated that more than seven thousand children have been trained during the programme, which has also expanded to train adults particularly fishers who are normally engaged in rescue missions in case of accidents.
Many children in Nungwi, Kendwa, and Bwejuu coastal villages have benefited from the training, organized at least twice in a year, and the swimming training last three days for adults and 15 days for children.
“We appreciate support from ‘The Panje Project’ and RNLI for the swimming training, provision of swimming costumes, life jackets and local tutors trained locally,” said the fishers Secretary.
“We enjoy training children how to swim and rescue him/herself in case of accidents in the sea. We train for 15 days consecutively, but it is unfortunate we have not been monitoring children who complete swimming,” Haji said.
He said most people living close to the sea widely use locally made light boats to travel including pregnant mothers, children going to school, and fishers, therefore swimming training remains important.
The swimming tutors say learning how to swim is important because it helps one to get saved from drowning and rescue other villagers in difficulty in the water, “This happens frequently and people get injured or die.” Swimming teachers are male for male children and adults, while female tutors train the females.
They teach how to float, swim, and rescue others using sticks, jerry containers and floats, in shallow water and move slowly to the deep sea area.
Many people find it a difficult programme, at the beginning, but slowly learn and enjoy as it is very important for everyone in Tanzania to learn swimming to be safe in the water while travelling or even when swimming for leisure.
Mr Bakhtim Khamis Marshed, co-founder of the Panje Project, says the swimming education has been important because “We believe, in case of the any marine accident many people will manage to rescue themselves.” He said that travelling, fishing or just swimming in the sea is risky because sometimes tides change swiftly throughout the day and over the course of the month,
“so recognizing the true depth of the water at all times can be difficult, therefore accidents can easily occur.”
Globally, it is estimated that the annual death toll due to drowning surpasses 350,000 people, and that due to culture and religious restrictions, few girls are allowed to learn basic swimming skills.
In its 2014 global report on the issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that drowning causes 372,000 deaths each year. That is about 42 people who die each hour from drowning, despite the widespread availability of prevention strategies.
Experts RNLI say that with increasing marine transportation and fishing, swimming programmes is good for children and ordinary people and that they are committed to continue supporting the programme in Zanzibar with plans to extend to other countries.
The programme recruits kids between the ages of 7 and 14 from Quran schools (Madrassa), the primary and secondary schools in batches of 16 and 28 years. The children attend 2-hour training sessions each day for 15 days and about 70 per cent of the kids who come through the programme pass.
Mr Marshed said during those two weeks, the kids learn a slew of survival skills besides swimming: properly checking for sharp rock or urchins in the water, saving others using a stick or rope, floating on their backs and rolling from their fronts to their backs.
“They need this, as long as we’re living on an island like this one,” says Marshed adding that the programme is expanding to other coastal villages in Pemba Islands.
A 12-year old Asha Mohamed from Madrassa in Bwejuu village says she is happy to learn swimming. “At the beginning I was scared, but now I can help to save lives.
I thank RNLI and the Panje Project,” she says. Experts from RNLI have coached Panje’s 12 swim instructors to teach including simple rescue techniques.