Improve safety measures for popular cross-harbour swim

The death of one participant and the hospitalisation of another on Sunday highlights the need for greater vigilance and tighter rules

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 3:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 3:17am

Concerns over the annual cross-harbour swimming event have never been higher after it took the life of one participant and sent another into intensive care at a hospital on Sunday. The death was the first since the event resumed in 2011 after a three-decade hiatus. While such incidents do not necessarily warrant a complete halt to sporting events, it calls for higher safety awareness on the part of organisers and participants alike.

One dead, one hospitalised after Hong Kong cross-harbour swim race

Exactly how the accidents happened under the watchful eyes of some 120 lifeguards deployed along the race course is something for the organisers to address. The 46-year-old man died after being pulled unconscious from the waters near the finish line in Quarry Bay. The rescue of the female swimmer was said to have been delayed, according to witnesses. She was rushed to hospital and put in intensive care.

A race that attracted some 3,000 people inevitably faces daunting challenges in terms of logistics and risk management. Credit goes to the organiser for having some measures in place to enhance standards and safety. For instance, swimmers were spread out in batches to maintain a reasonable lifeguard to swimmer ratio throughout the event. Separately, those who failed to complete 1.5km within 45 minutes in a trial pool test last month were banned from competing.

Hong Kong cross-harbour swim tragedy prompts plan for new safety measures

While the measures are steps in the right direction, there is still room for improvement. The two swimmers in the leisure category had skipped the test under a rule that exempts those who had participated in the two previous years. In hindsight, it may be time to tighten the rule. However, whether this alone could have prevented the tragedy is just hypothetical.

As the name suggests, the leisure swim category is meant for pleasure rather than athletic excellence. That said, harbour swimming is not risk-free. Participants should fully assess their own ability before entering the event. Similarly, the organisers should review safety measures in the wake of this experience. Safety must always be the top priority.