KARACHI: The city’s 64-kilometre-long coastal belt has been closed for the public for an indefinite period following the deaths of 12 members of a family at Hawke’s Bay.
Hawke’s Bay was closed for picnickers on Sunday following a horrifying incident in which 12 people drowned the day before. Some family members who had arrived from various areas in District Central such as Paposh Nagar, North Karachi and North Nazimabad, drowned while swimming in the sea while others were killed while trying to rescue their relatives. A woman and two children were among the victims.
“We stopped each and every person from picnicking on the beach today [Sunday],” confirmed Mauripur SHO Niaz Panwar. “It is not only at Hawke’s Bay. No one will be allowed at any beach across the entire coastal belt, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays.”
A large number of picnickers had arrived at Hawke’s Bay beach on Sunday but were stopped by the authorities. An extra contingent of law enforcers was deployed at the beach since early Sunday morning, which caused anger amongst revellers who had gone there to enjoy the beach. They also staged a protest against the police and government. “Instead of stopping the people, the government should make proper arrangements,” said a picnicker, Sarfaraz Khan.
Nearly 55 people, including three Saudi nationals, have lost their lives in the three months of the monsoon spell. Nearly 40 of them drowned at Hawke’s Bay.
The funeral prayers of 11 members of the family were offered on Sunday afternoon. A large number of people gathered at Babul Islam Masjid in North Karachi’s Sector 9 to attend the last rites. A gloom enveloped the congregation when the bodies were brought from the Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth. Besides a large number of relatives and neighbours, Mayor Wasim Akhtar and leaders of several political parties also attended the funeral. The victims were laid to rest at the Muhammad Shah graveyard in North Karachi.
Meanwhile, the funeral prayers of the twelfth family members were offered after Asr prayers at Jama Masjid in Paposh Nagar.
The victims’ relatives blamed the government for the incident. “If there were lifeguards with proper equipment like motorboats at the beach there would be no loss of life,” complained a relative, Ahsan Iftikhar. “Usually the majority of the deaths occur in a bid to save the others and this happens because of the unavailability of lifeguards and speed boats at the beach.”
Edhi Foundation Spokesperson Saad Edhi told The Express Tribune that Hawke’s Bay and Sandspit are not suitable for swimming, as many sudden deaths have occurred there.
He added that there should be a permanent ban on swimming at these beaches, as such few lifeguards cannot protects thousands of picnickers at a beach that stretches 64km. Edhi said that though the number of lifeguards is few, however, he has seen their hard work and dedication. Citizens should have the sense not to go swimming in the sea when it is not the season, he said, adding that many do not even know how to swim.
A tough job
The city’s 64km coastal belt lacks proper lifeguard units working under one authority and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) emergency response centre at Hawke’s Bay is being run by the fire department with meagre resources at its disposal. But the KMC is not in charge of all of Karachi beaches. KMC officials said that Karachi’s 64km long coastal belt starts from Keti Bunder and goes right up to Mubarak Village. The KMC’s jurisdiction in this area is just 27km long.
The remaining 37km is looked after by other authorities such as the Port Qasim Authority, Landhi Fish Harbour (near Rehri Goth), Korangi Creek, Cantonment Board Clifton, Defence Housing Authority, Karachi Port Trust, Pakistan Navy, Cantonment Board Manora and Kanupp.
“The KMC’s jurisdiction in this area is just 27km long and it has only 46 lifeguards,” said Mayor Akhtar. “The provincial government should deploy mounted police force here.”
A senior resident of the area and lifeguard Anwar Baloch told The Express Tribune that the situation was better when former city nazim Naimatullah Khan involved local boys of their village situated near the sea on a contract basis and hired them as lifeguards. However, after Khan’s tenure ended the practice was stopped and the KMC hired permanent lifeguards, most of whom are rarely on duty or do not even know how to swim.
He added that the only solution is to involve locals, as they spend their days and nights in the sea and are well aware of how to swim. If they are paid, he said, they will perform their task well.