Karachi, July 31 – At least 21 bathers have drowned in rough seas off Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi, officials said Thursday, after defying a ban on swimming during the monsoon season.
The bathers were among thousands who had taken to the beaches to celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday, which began on Tuesday and continues until Friday.
Senior police officer Ibadat Nisar said police discovered three bodies washed up at the upscale Clifton beach on Wednesday evening, which prompted a wider search operation that was suspended overnight but resumed Thursday.
“We started talking to picnickers on the beach and realised that the number of people who drowned was much higher than we thought, people whom we talked to told us about their friends or relatives who had gone missing while swimming,” he said.
Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, the city’s top administrator confirmed the incident to AFP, adding: “We have just recovered another dead body and the toll now stands at 21, and it might increase.
“The coastal area is very long and we cannot say how many people might be still missing — let’s hope the number is not very big.”
Several ambulances were seen on the beach where the relatives of some of the missing anxiously awaiting word of their loved ones.
Faiz Rehman, 32, said he and his younger brother had came to the beach on Wednesday to go for a swim along with two friends — who were now missing.
He said: “As we were swimming in the sea, I noticed the waves getting bigger and more rough, and I got scared and started swimming back.
“I also called my brother and friends to swim back to the shore. My brother returned but my two friends were still swimming as the waves got bigger I lost sight of them.
“I waited for around three hours but they didn’t return.”
Twenty-four-year-old Muhammad Haroon added he had come to celebrate Eid with his cousins, but refused to swim with them because he did not want to ruin his new clothes.
“I was walking along the shore waiting for them to return.
“We are still clueless about them.”
Administrator Siddiqui added that a search operation had been launched with the help of navy divers and a helicopter, as well as civil authorities.
Thousands of residents regularly throng Karachi’s beaches on public holidays, with few public parks for picnics.
But safety standards are very low with the few lifeguards on duty often unable to exert any authority.
Despite the deaths, hundreds of families including women and children continued to arrive at the Clifton Beach Thursday, as some clashed with police and demanding to be allowed to swim.
“We are still searching for dead bodies and these people can see the dead bodies with their eyes but they are still fighting with us to allow them to swim in the sea,” Fahad Ali, a police official deployed at the beach told AFP.
“These people have came with their family members, there are women and children and you can see kids as young as six and their parents are fighting with us to allow them to swim in the sea,” he said.
“This is the height of stupidity,” he added.
Nisar, the senior police officer, told AFP the government had imposed a ban on swimming in the sea before the start of the monsoon season in June.
Karachi, a teeming city of 20 million people, is Pakistan’s economic hub and is regularly wracked by political and ethnic violence.