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English Channel ‘is safe to swim’

PUBLISHED: 12:02 03 November 2010

Channel swimmer Paul Hopfensperger

Channel swimmer Paul Hopfensperger

Archant

A SUFFOLK swimmer who has twice swum the English Channel for charity last night hit out at French calls for a ban on the crossing.

Some of the globe’s finest long-distance swimmers have attempted to cross the 24-mile stretch from Dover to Calais despite its reputation as one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

It has now emerged that the deputy director of the French Coastguard, Jean-Christophe Burvingt, wants channel swims banned amid concerns that there could be an accident.

His calls have been echoed by some ferry operators who want tighter controls put in place. But last night, Paul Hopfensperger, who has completed the swim twice, taken part in a relay across the water once and crewed for three other channel swimmers, said risks were already carefully minimised.

“The important thing about it is that the English Channel is the Everest of channel swimming. There are channel crossings going on across the world. But our channel is the one everybody wants to do.

“It brings an enormous amount of trade into Dover from swimmers staying at hotels. People come from all over the world for it.

“And there is nothing inherently unsafe about it. There are pilot boats with fully skilled and fully trained pilots and their sole job is to take people across the channel.

“I’ve done it a few times and I’ve never seen anybody go close to a tanker. As far as I can tell there’s no problem with it.

“It is the most focused and organised thing people ever do in their lives – everything is planned.”

French law prohibits swims from France to England unless the athlete has initially set off swimming from England, as is the case with so-called “double crossing” attempts.

The first observed and unassisted swim across the Strait of Dover was made by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875. The success rate for channel swim attempts is less than 10%.

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