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Speaking at an event on safety at sea at the Municipal Theater of Voula, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated that every year, nearly 350 people accidentally drown at sea, double the number of those who died of Covid-19.

The event was organised by nonprofit Safe Water Sports, which promotes educational activities particularly for children to enhance awareness of safety at sea.

Praising the contributions of Safe Water Sports founder Panagiotis Paschalakis, whose loss of of his young son led him to found the organisation, Mitsotakis said his presence at the event was meant to highlight the importance his government and he personally attributes to safety at sea: “The protection of human life is our non-negotiable priority.”

Mitsotakis stressed that Greece can lead the world as a safe destination for maritime tourism and recreational water activities and be an example of a systematic and organised way to deal with the problem of drowning and accidents. He further added that the education of children and young people is very important in order to form a new culture and a new way of behaving towards the water element.

Referring to the organisation’s innovations in educational programs and technology, which have attracted the interest of other countries, the PM noted that “the state is obliged to upgrade the current institutional framework, and will do so. We must treat the sea with respect and the same must be done by businesses related to the sea.”

Mitsotakis also took the opportunity to thank the Coast Guard “for all it has done and continues to do to guard our maritime borders,” as “safe seas means upgraded tourist product for Greece.”

Shipping & Island Policy Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis said that saving lives at sea “was and is a definitive priority for all of us,” and said that “in Greece, nearly 350 of our fellow-Greeks drown every year; from 1980 to the present, that accounts for the population of a small city.”

He also revealed that in August 2019, Mitsotakis had met with Paschalakis for the design of a comprehensive program to deal with the issue of drownings at sea, and legislation has since been put in place to make this summer safer than all previous ones. The plan moves along three directions, he said, of prevention, safety and control, and includes an awareness campaign for the elderly as well.

Speaking of his organisation, founder Panagiotis Paschalakis said he lost his son Michael, 10, during water sports with friends in 2014 and began the nonprofit in 2015, when there was no system for informing children and young people of safety measures at sea. With the help of private funding, the organisation has also created videos and brochures for retirement homes. In terms of statistics for 2017-2019, he said that every year 344 people on average drown at sea. Of these, 79 pct are over 60 years old.

On its site, Safe Water Sports describes Greece as “11th globally in the list of countries with the longest coastline (13,676 kilometers)”, and notes that “drowning is considered the second leading cause of accidental death for children 1-14 years of age.”