SUR accompanies the crew of the Salvamar Alnitak in a drill prior to the start of the summer season Isidro González
Maritime rescue: 675 people assisted in waters off the Costa del Sol in one year
Emergencies at sea

Maritime rescue: 675 people assisted in waters off the Costa del Sol in one year

Emergencies dealt with by Salvamiento Marítimo include boats and jet skis running out of fuel and there has been an increase the disappearance of paddle boarders

Irene Quirante

Friday, 14 June 2024, 13:22

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Early warning is key when it comes to attending to an emergency at sea. In Malaga waters alone, last year Salvamento Marítimo (the lifeboat service) assisted 675 people. In total, 170 emergencies were attended to in the province through the Tarifa Coordination Centre.

With less than ten days to go before the summer season starts, Spain's Ministry of Transport has already launched its campaign to urge the public to take precautions regarding activities at sea. The campaign, above all, emphasises the importance of having mobile devices at hand when going out on recreational boats to be able to call for help.

In fact, the slogan of this campaign is: 'An early alert is your best lifesaver'. According to Salvamento Marítimo data, almost 50 per cent of the emergencies attended to last summer were related to recreational activities. Although most of them consisted of towing boats and were solved within the first few hours, there were also other cases in which the warning, unfortunately, arrived too late.

SUR accompanies the crew of the lifeboat Salvamar Alnitak in a drill to practise rescue manoeuvres for boats and people. The deputy chief of the Tarifa Coordination Centre, Patricia López, who is also on board the orange vessel, indicates that she is observing "a boom in interventions related to the search for paddle boarders, both in Malaga and the rest of the area" covered by her headquarters, which covers the coastline from the border with Portugal to Granada province.

One of the cases that Salvamento Marítimo will not forget is that of the two young Argentinians who went missing when they went paddle boarding off Huelin beach in the city at the end of August last year. The sea and air operation to try to locate Maxi (27) and Emmanuel (34) lasted almost two weeks. Only the board was found, some 15 miles off the coast of Malaga.

In February of this year there was also an operation which resulted in the rescue of the body of a 53-year-old paddle boarder, who was a resident of Marbella. His body was found about five miles from Caleta de Vélez a day after the family reported him missing.

"When there is a land wind, this sport is very dangerous because the board isn't heavy and, in a gust, it is carried by the sea," explains Narciso Ramón Quesada, the skipper of the Salvamar Alnitak.

The problem is that paddle boarders usually go out without their mobile phones, so the search does not begin until several hours later, when someone else raises the alarm. Once the call is received, the coordination centre does everything possible to locate the starting point as accurately as possible.

According to statistics, the emergencies that most require the help of maritime rescue units are jet skis, which are becoming increasingly popular, as Antonio Fernández, a sailor with 24 years' experience on the Salvamar Alnitak, points out. "Normally, what happens is that they break down or are stranded because they run out of fuel and have no way of getting back," he explains.

Last summer two people died after falling off a jet ski in the province. The first of these accidents occurred on the afternoon of 16 July, near El Palo in the east of Malaga city. It cost the life of a 32-year-old woman from Malaga.

Just a month later, on 9 August, a French man of the same age died in another jet ski accident in Fuengirola. It happened offshore, outside the area marked out for bathing, in front of the Rey de España promenade.

Extreme caution

As part of the campaign, the Ministry of Transport stresses that while carrying mobile devices is important, there are areas where coverage is not guaranteed, so it is still essential to use the radio with VHF channel 16.

Another of the points emphasised by maritime rescue is the importance of consulting the weather forecast before starting an activity at sea, whether it is going out on a recreational boat or doing water sports.

Also, although it may seem obvious, they point out that a large number of their interventions are related to boats running out of fuel, which could be avoided by checking that the tank has enough fuel for the entire trip.

They also stress that it is essential for all sailors to have life jackets and to check all the safety elements of the vessel, including the engine, as this is a way of preventing emergencies and ensuring a smooth departure.

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