Drownings Soar in New Zealand

Water Safety New Zealand, a safety educational group in existence for 62 years, reports 123 drowned in the country last year, a 41 percent increase from the previous year.

A total of 123 people drowned in New Zealand last year, well above the recent annual average of 111 and 41 percent more than in 2010, according to Water Safety New Zealand, a national organization founded in 1949 to provide water safety education in the country. WSNZ says New Zealand has one of the highest annual drowning death tolls in the developed world.

"To go from a record low in 2010 to an eight year high in 2011 is a tragedy and we will continue to do everything we can to inform and educate people about water safety to ensure 2012 is a better year," WSNZ Chief Executive Matt Claridge said Jan. 25. He said New Zealand has an ongoing issue with a casual attitude to water safety.

"Many of the drownings that occurred during recreational activities could have been prevented if people remembered the safety basics," he explained. "Wear life jackets, check the weather forecast, stay within your limits, don't swim alon,e and avoid alcohol. These and other simple precautions could save your life."

During 2011, the 29 drownings at beaches exceeded the 27 at rivers, which usually are more numerous. WSNZ said 66 of the 123 drownings were recreational (fishing, sailing, swimming, or diving), 24 were non-recreational (including occupational and incidents where the person had no intention of being in the water), and 30 resulted from other activities, such as suicides, homicides, and road vehicle accidents.

This year started badly, with nine people drowning during the holiday period between Christmas and Jan. 5. Four of these involved people who were fishing, one victim was snorkeling, and one was boating. The other three were a car that crashed into a river, someone falling from a wharf, and someone who was working near a coastline, Claridge said.

He said the four the involved fishing should be a wake-up call for other fishermen. "Whether people are fly fishing, tending crab pots, trawling from boats, diving, or casting off rocks, we're urging people to remember the safety basics," he said. "Watch the weather, go with a buddy, use appropriate safety equipment, and know your limits."

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