Water safety organisations in S'pore commemorate World Drowning Prevention Day

There were at least 12 deaths and three near-drowning incidents since the start of 2020, estimates the Singapore Life Saving Society.
There were at least 12 deaths and three near-drowning incidents since the start of 2020, estimates the Singapore Life Saving Society.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Volunteers at a public education booth set up by drowning prevention organisation Project Silent.
Volunteers at a public education booth set up by drowning prevention organisation Project Silent.PHOTO: PROJECT SILENT
Project Silent founder and swim coach Danny Ong (right) at a drowning prevention outreach event.
Project Silent founder and swim coach Danny Ong (right) at a drowning prevention outreach event.PHOTO: PROJECT SILENT

SINGAPORE - Swim coach Danny Ong challenges each new participant at his swimming confidence class to take a deep breath and, at the same time, try to shout for help. Usually, not a single sound can be heard.

He tells each batch of swimmers that drowning is silent, unlike how it is portrayed in the movies.

"We've all been tricked by the movies, where actors are seen waving and shouting when they are about to drown," Mr Ong, 46, founder of drowning prevention initiative Project Silent, told The Straits Times.

"But the truth is, if you can't swim, you will struggle and begin drowning in 20 to 60 seconds."

His initiative is one of several groups that raised awareness for World Drowning Prevention Day, which was commemorated for the first time on Sunday (July 25). It was introduced by the United Nations to highlight the damage drowning accidents bring to communities and solutions to prevent the accidents.

Roughly 236,000 people worldwide die every year from drowning - the third leading cause of unintentional injury death, the World Health Organisation said on its website, adding that the numbers were likely to be higher.

In Singapore, the figures are less alarming but has seen a steady count, with a recent high of 27 deaths in 2018, according to the Singapore Life Saving Society (SLSS).

The SLSS estimated there were at least 12 deaths and three near-drowning incidents since the start of last year, with most incidents occurring in open water.

SLSS president Tan Lii Chong said many accidents occur when people are overconfident about their ability. He urged people to learn basic swimming and life-saving skills, such as rescue and resuscitation.

Mr Tan, 57, said: "Survival courses are very important. It is good to have it ingrained in you."

Both he and Project Silent founder Ong hoped life-saving lessons will be made mandatory for all students here.


Project Silent founder Danny Ong (right) at an SG Project Silent Open Water Series event in 2020. PHOTO: PROJECT SILENT

In school, students are taught the basics of swimming, water survival and life-saving skills to react to adverse situations in the water, as part of the physical education syllabus since 2015, the Ministry of Education (MOE) told ST.

Under SportSG's SwimSafer programme, most Primary 3 pupils attend weekly classes funded by MOE. Those who are unable to pass can choose to go through a remediation programme.

Secondary schools are also given funds to send students for swimming classes, and parents who wish to have their children acquire higher water-safety proficiency can enrol them in advanced modules with SportSG, MOE added.

Mr Ong said one school term of swimming classes is not enough for new swimmers to build water confidence, or prepare them to face the open water where the risks are far higher.

He added that the number of non-fatal drowning accidents in the past year was likely higher than three, based on overseas statistics.

"Keeping track of non-fatal accidents will help countries to plan for accident prevention," he said.


Publicity material for Project Silent's Drowning is Silent campaign. PHOTO: PROJECT SILENT

Project Silent held a webinar on Sunday to commemorate World Drowning Prevention Day, joined by Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua. It also set up a public education booth at ActiveSG Jalan Besar Swimming Complex.

Mrs Suzanna Chua, 38, who enrolled her two children in swimming classes as her family often goes to the beach, said: "They need knowledge of what they can and can't do in the water.

"I have seen the accidents in the news. Once it happens, it is extremely sad."