VILNIUS - Rescue workers say that recklessness, arrogance and alcohol are causing record levels of drowning on Lithuania's beaches.
According to Statistics Department figures, 31 people drowned in July. In total, 381 people drowned in 2007 's 301 men and 80 women. Approximately 30 people were under 18.
Birute Stolyte, a spokesperson for the department, said alcohol was a major cause of accidents.
Tatijana Milkamanovic, head of international relations at the Fire and Rescue Department under the Ministry of Interior, said that people are reckless and expect others to rescue them.
"People want to show off and go to unknown places in lakes and rivers. People should check if they are safe, but they don't do that," Milkamanovic said.
She said that her department is trying to help, but there is a limit to what they can do. "We are trying to explain to people that it is their responsibility to look after their own safety. We are disseminating this information all the time. Someone might be able to rescue them, but they should look after themselves," Milkamanovic said.
Lakes are statistically more dangerous than rivers or the Baltic Sea, with more drownings reported. Experts believe that this is because of their proximity to people's homes, the large numbers of visitors they receive, and the frequent lack of lifeguards on their beaches.
Vilniaus Diena reported that rescue workers received 196 emergency calls for drowning and pulled 120 people out of the water. Eleven people died in one week during the hottest weekend of the summer, six of whom were children.
"It the most painful fact of these statistics when children drown. We remind parents to take care of their children near water," Milkamanovic said.
Alcohol is also a major cause of accidents in the water. International research from Australia has shown that intoxicated people can lose their sense of direction underwater, which may cause them to swim in the wrong direction when trying to surface for oxygen.
Milkamanovic said that while medical autopsy experts do not communicate exact statistics, alcohol definitely causes a large number of deaths, especially in men. "One of the main reasons for [male] deaths is drinking. We have television, radio and Internet campaigns to tell people not to go swimming when drunk," she said.
"Men like to drink alcohol and show off. They want to show that they are strong," Milkamanovic said. This contributes partly to the 20-percent difference in the male and female populations in Lithuania.
Rescue experts have played down swimming ability as a factor in water deaths. They say that most Lithuanians have an adequate swimming ability and warn that anyone can drown if they are behaving recklessly.
The Fire and Rescue Department Web site (www.vpgt.lt
) has a water-safety advice section. It reminds swimmers that only those who have been trained in rescue techniques should attempt to save a drowning person.