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Grief as seven pupils from a Murang’a school drown in Indian Ocean

COUNTIES
By Mwangi Muraguri and Benard Sanga | August 13th 2015

Kwale, Kenya: What was to be a memorable holiday trip at the Coast for pupils of a school from Murang’a turned tragic when seven of them drowned in the Indian Ocean Wednesday.

Tragedy befell the school when seven of the pupils from St Martin Primary School perished after they were swept by swift tidal waves in Diani, Kwale County.

The seven pupils drowned while swimming; three bodies were, however, retrieved after a lengthy search affected by poor visibility.

The tragedy, which struck at around 5.30pm, happened when about 56 pupils from Saint Martins De Pores Boys School in Murang’a, who are on holiday in Diani, went out to sea to swim without minders or life guards.

According to Father William Kamau, a priest in Mugoiri Parish, the pupils left the school on August 7 and were to return August 13.

Immediately the news of the tragedy was broken, horrified parents started calling the school desperately seeking to know about their children’s fate.

The teachers, who had accompanied the children, were too shocked to speak to journalists.

Reports indicate those who drowned were swept into the sea when the tides suddenly rose and became rough, overwhelming the young swimmers.

The sense of panic around Pavillion Beach in Diani was heightened by the fact that only volunteer divers were present to rescue the drowning children and recover bodies.

The volunteers had deployed a private boat with a searchlight into the rough seas as the desperate search for bodies continued.

According to Kwale County Commissioner Evans Achoki, the search and rescue efforts were being frustrated by poor visibility.

“Three pupils died on the way to hospital after being retrieved from the waters and a fourth body was recovered later,” Achoki said.

He said the bodies were taken to Diani District Hospital mortuary. A Red Cross official Mohamed Said confirmed the death toll and warned that the sea is normally too rough for swimming during this time of the year.

Last evening, Murang'a  Governor Mwangi wa Iria held a meeting with county officials as he monitored the situation. Reports indicated that Wa Iria was planning to fly to Kwale.

Lack of capacity

The beach management, under the county government of Kwale, has been lamenting that it lacks capacity and expertise to protect swimmers.

The coastal counties have asked the national government to assist them set up a coast guard that can act fast during tragedies and protect tourists.

Red Cross officials said by Wednesday evening, 48 pupils out of 56 had been accounted for.

This was the second tragedy in two years involving pupils in the ocean.

In December 2014, four children from Shima Hills in Kwale drowned in the same place after they were swept by fast-rising tides.

On January 4 2014, Abdul Rauk Harith Baile, 18, who had gone to Fort Jesus beach for a game of football, also drowned in the ocean.

And on Tuesday, six fishermen were rescued from the sea off the Kilifi coast after it capsized in the rough seas. Luckily, they were able to swim and hang onto their wrecked boat until they were rescued.

Last evening, Achoki cautioned against unaided swimming in Kwale’s beaches and advised upcountry visitors to enlist local divers who have knowledge of the behaviour of the sea.

Diani is one of the most popular holiday resorts in the world and was voted to have the best beach in the world last year. Its lily white sands attract world film stars, sporstmen and women and adventurers.

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