Councils urged to improve water safety measures after two teenagers drowned
Councils across Northern Ireland have been urged to implement improved water safety measures due to the increased popularity of open water swimming.
The call came from coroner Anne-Louise Toal at the end of the inquest at Coleraine Courthouse into the deaths of friends Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian.
The two 16-year-olds drowned while swimming at Lough Enagh in Co Derry in August last year. They were with a group of friends who had gone to the lough to swim on a sunny day.
The boys were from Derry’s Indian Keralan community and had been due to return to St Columb’s College after receiving their GCSE results.
Delivering her findings in the inquest, Ms Toal said: “It was evident to me what a profound impact Reuven and Joseph’s deaths had on their families and the wider community.”
She also outlined a number of steps Derry City and Strabane District Council had taken to improve safety at the lough following the tragedy, including the commissioning of a water safety review, the erection of warning signage, education programmes and a social media campaign.
The coroner said: “On the afternoon of August 29 2022, Reuven Simon and Joseph Sebastian, together with some friends, travelled to a jetty situated on Lough Enagh, to go swimming, arriving at approximately 6pm.”
She said there was no warning signage at the site on the dangers of swimming.
She said the two boys could swim, but neither were strong swimmers and they had little or no experience of open water swimming.
Ms Toal said that the group of friends were swimming about five metres from the shore.
She added: “Joseph moved slightly further out beyond the group, a mere two or three metres away to an area which very sharply dropped in depth, which caused him to struggle to keep afloat in the water.
“His friends made a number of attempts to pull him back to shallower water, which did not succeed.
“In an attempt to rescue his friend, Reuven swam towards Joseph and himself got into difficulty.”
She said the two boys were unable to stay afloat and they were both found later by emergency services. Reuven was pronounced dead at Altnagelvin Hospital and Joseph died at the scene.
The coroner added: “This tragedy serves to highlight the dangers that can be associated with open water swimming. Such dangers apply to both the young and old, and can affect both novice and experienced swimmers.
“As a coroner, this is sadly my second inquest into such a death of a young person in as many years.
“I would urge all those who wish to partake in open water swimming, be that in a lake or in the sea, to heed the advice given by the Foyle Search and Rescue personnel and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service at this inquest regarding the use of appropriate safety apparatus such as flotation devices and the importance of being familiar with the area in which you are swimming.”
She continued: “It is clear that these two young boys were only a number of metres from the shore when they got into difficulties.
“Despite the valiant efforts of both their friends and a multi-agency rescue attempt, their lives were unable to be saved.
“I have been impressed by both the sheer determination of both Reuven and Joseph’s parents to raise awareness of such a tragedy occurring in another home and the proactive nature of the response by Derry City and Strabane District Council in the steps they have taken in light of this incident to improve water safety around Enagh Lough.
“I would urge all councils to consider looking at these actions as a template for improving water safety in their respective areas whilst acknowledging there are many difficulties in ascertaining who, if anyone, has a duty to provide such resources.”
The coroner concluded: “It appears to me that there may be a role for wider education on the issue of water safety, such as that provided already by Foyle Search and Rescue and the NI Fire and Rescue Service in the current era given the noticeable increase in the popularity of such activities.”