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July 26, 2017

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7 hospitalized as rough seas rock swim event

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Seven people were hospitalized and one person reportedly died yesterday due to exhaustion after swimming against strong ocean currents in an attempt to return to shore at the 2013 Olympic Hengchun Open Water Swimming event in Kenting.

According to police, most of the rescued swimmers showed signs of fatigue and hypothermia. United Evening News reported that one elderly swimmer passed away after going into shock. At the time of print, the Central News Agency had not reported any deaths.

Police said four men and three women were receiving medical treatment for water inhalation, with two in a serious condition and undergoing intubation treatment. Five reportedly recovered and had been discharged.

Sea conditions were treacherous during the event and participants were forced to swim against a strong ocean current to return to shore.

Hung Kuang-pin (洪光濱), the CEO of the Master Swimming Kaohsiung City Association (高雄市成人游泳會), said 168 swimmers were stranded in the water, around 800 meters offshore.

The open-water swimming event in Kenting attracted some 4,000 participants this year, according to local reports.

Hundreds of swimmers were trapped near the water discharge outlet of the Third Nuclear Power Plant, reports said. The outlet itself did not affect the situation.

"No matter how hard I tried, I could not swim back to the shore against the strong ocean current," said an experienced swimmer surnamed Cheng.

Cheng said the current kept pushing swimmers away from the designated swimming route, and that many elderly people and children started to wave their swimming caps in an attempt to call for help.

In response to the poor conditions, the organizer terminated the event. Rescue personnel worked with firefighters and coast guard officials to rescue the swimmers, police said.

According to the Hengchun Coast Guard, winds in the area yesterday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. were measured as blowing at Force 6, which represents a strong breeze on the Beaufort scale and is not considered suitable for sea swimming.

Some reports said that organizers had called off the event prior to its commencement, citing dangerous conditions, and that some 2,000 swimmers had taken to the water despite this.

Hung, however, said that when the event commenced, both weather and sea conditions were at safe levels. When conditions worsened, Hung said, the event was immediately terminated and lifeboats and jet skis were sent out to carry swimmers back to shore.

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