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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Court fines Qatar’s Aqua Park and contractors after child’s drowning

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Aqua Park
Aqua Park

The company managing Qatar’s largest water park has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and fined QR10,000 after a young boy drowned there in 2012.

In a verdict read out this morning, Doha’s criminal court also convicted the company that owns Aqua Park, Hala Group, as well as two contractors – a lifeguard and his supervisor – of involuntary manslaughter.

Each were assigned different degrees of responsibility and ordered to pay a portion of the QR200,000 in blood money compensation to the victim’s family.

Meanwhile, the judge’s panel exonerated a paramedic stationed at Aqua Park who was also charged after providing first aid to the boy.

No one will serve any jail time for their role in the incident, which took place on May 4, 2012, at the waterpark some 40km outside Doha.

What happened

According to the judge’s verdict, manager Kuwait-based Al Jazeera Co. for Commercial Projects failed to staff the Aqua Park with a sufficient number of lifeguards the day the child died.

Aqua Park
Aqua Park

Ahmad Emad Isa, the lifeguard who was ultimately convicted in the incident, previously told the court that he dove into the pool and pulled out the Palestinian boy – estimated by witnesses to between six and eight years old – after spotting him floating motionless underwater.

The lifeguard rushed him to the facility’s medical clinic, where he was treated by a paramedic working at Aqua Park and eventually taken away by ambulance.

Witnesses testified during the trial that several things went wrong. Isa said Aqua Park was short-staffed that day and that the boy was not being closely monitored by his family.

Others said that the boy was not wearing a personal floatation device, in contravention of Aqua Park’s rules, and that the facility lacked the necessary medical equipment.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The boy’s mother also suggested in a lawsuit that it took an excessive amount of time for an ambulance to arrive.

However, the judicial panel led by presiding judge Nasser al-Dosari said the boy was most likely already dead by the time he was pulled from the pool.

This meant that medical staff had no chance of saving him and did not play any role in his death, the court said.

But the verdict still cited evidence that was critical of Aqua Park’s response to the incident, noting that the lack of an ambulance stationed at the facility meant it took Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) paramedics 30 minutes to arrive.

The judges also cited testimony from an off-duty physician who said she observed the facility’s medical staff incorrectly performing CPR on the boy and said Aqua Park “was not equipped to handle accidents like this.”

The victim’s family left the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read and did not comment to media.

Verdict

The incident took place on a busy Friday, when there should have been five or six people monitoring the pool, Isa told the judge’s panel during two separate rounds of questioning.

Lower criminal court in Doha
Lower criminal court in Doha

However, he told the court that there were only two people on duty when the boy drowned, an issue that Isa said he reported to his supervisor.

Aqua Park officials previously disputed this allegation in 2012 in response to a lawsuit from the mother of the child, stating that six lifeguards were on duty.

However, the judge’s panel said Aqua Park’s manager “exercised negligence” by failing to ensure there were enough employees working at all times. He added that it also failed to equip the facility with the proper first aid instruments.

The company, the court said, “played the largest role in the accident” and was assigned 50 percent of the blame. This means it will have to pay QR100,000 to the victim’s family in addition to its QR10,000 fine.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In an October hearing, which was previously under a publication ban, a Hala manager said the owner of Aqua Park did not play any role in the incident and that Al Jazeera was responsible for the facility.

The judge’s panel disagreed and assigned Hala 35 percent of the blame. In addition to paying its share of the blood money compensation, it was also hit with a QR10,000 fine.

The supervisor, Ahmad Mahmoud al-Sayyid, was assigned 10 percent of the blame and fined QR3,000 because it was his job to ensure there were enough lifeguards at the pool, according to the verdict.

“If people didn’t show up for work, it is his job to find substitutes,” the judgment stated, adding that Isa was forced to constantly move around and leave his station in order to supervise other spots because the pool was short-staffed.

Aqua Park
Aqua Park

However, they still said Isa was paying insufficient attention to what was happening in the pool.

“He wasted his time and preoccupied himself with other matters such as preventing females from entering the pool fully clothed,” the verdict said. “His eyes were not constantly on the pool and the people in it.”

Isa was assigned 5 percent of the blame and ordered to pay a QR1,000 fine as well as his share of the compensation to the victim’s family.

The verdict did not say whether the judges believed that a lack of parental supervision contributed to the boy’s death.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Isa testified that it appeared that the young boy was playing near a pool intended for adults without parental supervision and was not wearing a required personal floatation device.

Separately, an Aqua Park administrative assistant – who was at the facility with her family on her day off when the boy died – testified that it took “some time” to find the boy’s relatives at the waterpark following the incident.

Questions about the safety of Aqua Park were first raised not long after it opened in 2010 after an 11-year-old boy reportedly broke a rib and injured a kidney after falling off one of the facility’s attractions.

However, there have been no reports of serious injuries to visitors since the 2012 drowning incident.

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