Australia

Warning to swim between the flags as Australia's drowning figures released

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Drownings in Australia have reduced overall but it remains the leading cause of accidental death in young children.

Hemant Govekar had a promising future ahead of him, before it ended in disaster.

The 29-year-old Indian student was caught in a deadly rip at Woolamai beach at Phillip Island last Christmas Day, weeks after he graduated. 

"He just got into the water, didn't have awareness about the rips, there was no help available - and unfortunately had to pay the price with his own life," Hemant's cousin Abhi Toraskar told SBS News on Wednesday.

Mr Toraskar has set up a foundation in his honor, to raise awareness on water dangers, especially for new arrivals and students.

He and his wife Trupti deliver talks at universities with life guards, but they're amazed at just how little some people know - in this case, swimming between the flags.

Hemant Govekar before the accident.
Hemant Govekar before the accident.
Supplied

"In one place that I went, they said well it seemed to indicate that it is only for a club or a specific membership that you can swim between the flags."

"[Our wish is] no accidents like this happen again."

But The Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia's National Drowning Report, released on Wednesday, shows that many similar accidents have happened since Hemant's death.

The report found drowning to be the leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of four in Australia.

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Indian man warns about water dangers after his cousin drowned at Phillip Island
Indian man warns about water dangers after his cousin drowned at Phillip Island

Eighteen children under the age of five were among the 249 people who died in the country's waters in the past year, renewing calls to better spread water safety throughout communities.

Royal Life Saving research and policy national manager Amy Peden told SBS News: "With children under five, the age group most vulnerable to drowning, it's all about active adult supervision ... not looking at your phone, being within arm's reach of young children when they're in and around water." 

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children under four in Australia.
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children under four in Australia.
AAP

Three-quarters of people who drowned did so within a hundred kilometres of their home postcodes. 

The 249 figure is the lowest number of deaths on record and marks a 14 per cent reduction, but Ms Peden said: 

"While we're very pleased with that result, we are still making the community aware that 249 families have lost loved ones in preventable tragedies."

The reduction in drownings has also been credited to a number of contributing factors including to drought-like summers meaning there were fewer floods.

Floral tributes after a drowning in NSW.
Floral tributes after a drowning in NSW.
AAP

The report also revealed drownings and near-drownings cost Australia almost $1.5 billion, impacting health systems, emergency services and productivity.

Drownings in creeks and streams account for one in four of the deaths. The second-leading location was along beaches, oceans and harbours. 

Swimming pools were named to be the most dangerous setting for small children, accounting for 36 per cent of those under age five who drowned in swimming pools. More than half of them had fallen in.

Royal Life Saving also says too much alcohol is being consumed around waterways, with studies showing two in five men who drowned in the past year had drugs and/or alcohol in their system.

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