Chennai’s beaches are a must-visit for every tourist and a place to escape to for residents. But the southern city’s shoreline has also become a watery grave for many.
In the last two days alone, five youngsters drowned to death in Chennai. According to Sankersubbu, an inspector at the Anna Square police station, which oversees the Marina Beach, there have been over 25 deaths in Chennai’s beaches this year so far. Last year there were close to 41 deaths.
"You know how it starts?" asks Megalan, a fisherman, who has rescued a couple of daring youngsters from drowning in the past.
"It will start with a dare. They would just challenge the friends to go as far as possible. These college boys, are mostly those who have not seen a beach. They would have learnt to swim at some 4 to 5 feet deep swimming pool but they forget that getting into the sea is a different ball game," he says.
Following the drownings this week, the Chennai police has increased the number of personnel patrolling the beach.
Vishwanath, who has been put on beach patrol duty says, "I have come from another police station. After the continuous deaths, the higher officials have said that policeman should be present every 100 meters. So since the Anna Square police station did not have enough people, more police from other stations have been called."
But keeping watch over hundreds of people is a difficult task, especially on weekends and festival days, when the crowd goes up dramatically.
"Even if we are patrolling, these boys would go into the water when we turn the other side,” says Parameshwaran, another policeman on beach duty. Most of the victims, he says, are boys on vacation, waiting for their exam results or for classes to resume.
But in case of emergency, the patrolling policemen, he says, “alert the police station and call a fisherman for immediate rescue.”
Following a series of drownings in January, a rescue team of 110 members, consisting of local fishermen, rescue-fishermen and volunteers had been deployed at Marina, Elliot’s and Thiruvanmiyur beach in Chennai, reported The New Indian Express quoting C Sylendra Babu, then ADGP Coastal Security Group.
But isn’t the police wasting precious time by calling for help? “I’ll be in trouble if I went into the water because I am not a confident swimmer,” admits Parameshwaran.
Megalan, a fisherman living in a colony near Lighthouse area says, “We do get calls from the police sometimes and more calls during the festival season.” He points out that many youngsters drown in the spot where the Cooum River meets the sea. But he admits that sometimes even fishermen are wary of the currents. “Even we are scared to get in to the spot because the current is very strong and once the body goes in it will reappear after hours or even days,” notes Megalan.