BRUNEI-MUARA – The bodies of two drowning victims were recovered during an extensive search operation on Wednesday, after a New Year’s Day that saw multiple drowning and near-drowning incidents at local beaches.

Authorities reported three separate incidents on Tuesday afternoon at Tungku Beach, Berakas Forest Reserve and Muara Beach.

Two Indonesian men were rescued by onlookers at Muara Beach, but another two victims died in separate incidents —  a 23-year-old Indonesian man and a 15-year-old Filipino boy — after they went missing in the water at Tungku Beach and Berakas Forest Reserve respectively.

According to the Fire and Rescue Department, the incidents occurred between 1pm and 4pm on New Year’s day, with strong rip currents thought to blame for the deaths.

The body of the Filipino boy was found by family members at 7.15am on Wednesday, about 500 metres from where he went missing at Berakas.

The Indonesian man’s body was recovered by Marine Police at 11.58am, which had drifted from Tungku Beach to the waters around the Empire Hotel and Country Club.

Uniformed personnel conducting search and rescue operations for the missing victims at Tungku Beach on January 2, 2019. Photo: Hazimul Harun/The Scoop

Rizan Latif, president of the Beach Bunch, a local NGO that had been assisting authorities in search efforts, said that the drownings were a tragedy most likely caused by the victims being caught in rip currents — a strong, narrow current of water that can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea until they are fatigued and drown.

“On average Brunei Darussalam experiences about two beach drownings per year, last year there were only two reported beach drownings. And on the first day of the new year we’ve already seen two drowning victims,” Rizan told The Scoop.

“It means we have already [surpassed] the average number of beach drownings, which means anything more will be an increase compared to the cases last year.”

Since 2013, 15 beach drownings have been reported in the sultanate.

President of Beach Bunch, Rizan Latif, speaks to media at Tungku Beach on January 2, 2019. Photo: Hazimul Harun/The Scoop

Rizan said that these incidents have become a worrying trend, boiling down to a lack of supervision at Brunei’s beaches and a lack of awareness on beach safety and rip currents among the public.

“Yesterday [at Tungku Beach], there were hundreds of people at the beach and that itself is a hazard because it increases the probability of a drowning incident.

He added that public holidays like New Year’s Day necessitate heightened supervision and safety measures at the beach, saying  a lifeguard should be stationed at public beaches during peak visiting days.

Another factor is how people react when they are being dragged by a rip current, normally when someone gets pulled by a current their first reaction is to fight it and swim back, but the current will never stop pulling.

It will pull you until you eventually tire out and sink. What should actually be done is that if you feel a pull, what is best is to swim parallel to the current. For other people, if you see someone being pulled by the current, don’t try to pull them out or else you will be dragged in too.

Rizan said both Tungku Beach and Berakas Forest Reserve are equipped with floatation rings — which should be used to save someone being pulled by a rip current — but not many people know they exist.

“What members of the public can do [if they are short of time], they should always try to bring a floatation device, a cool box can work as a floatation device [should there be no life rings in close proximity]”.

“The loss of life is tragic no matter who its, regardless of age, gender and nationality, so its sad that we have to start the year with such a tragedy”.

The Fire and Rescue Department advised members of the public to avoid swimming at the beaches due to the current rough weather conditions and prevalence of dangerous rip currents.

The department also urged people to check weather conditions before going to the beach through the Brunei Weather app, website or Instagram page.

In case of emergencies, the public should contact the Fire and Rescue hotline at 995 or the Darussalam hotline at 123.