Red sea shark scares tourists away

2010-12-06 21:19
Sharm el-Sheikh - Beaches were almost deserted at Egypt's luxury Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday after a shark ripped apart a German woman as horrified holidaymakers looked on just days after three other women swimmers were also mauled.

Only a smattering of sunbathers along the beach suspiciously eyed the blue waters where Sunday's frenzied attack happened a mere stone's throw from the shore.

The day before the deadly incident, the mayor of Sharm el-Sheikh had declared the beach safe after three tourists were attacked by the large predators over the previous week.

Oxana Turenko, a Russian holidaymaker, told AFP she had been sunbathing on Sunday when she heard screams.

She ran to a small promontory overlooking the exclusive stretch of beach reserved for hotel guests who pay a premium to avoid the crowds.

"I saw a big fish, maybe two or three metres" long, Turenko said, pointing to the turquoise waters off a long jetty. "Her arms were in the air."

Lifeguards and tourists rushed to the shoreline, but it was too late for the 70-year-old German woman, whose body lay motionless in the water as it floated towards the jetty amid a growing cloud of blood.

"They wrapped her in a black cover," Turenko said.

Shark attack

Another witness, Danish drama student Julie Lund, was on a dive boat about 300m off the jetty when the shark broached to attack the hapless tourist.

Lund's own boyfriend was still below the surface at the time.

"I heard 'Shark attack!'," she said. "The coast guards were driving in boats, very fast, to warn people. Red flags went up along the beach."

Twenty-four hours later, the beach is now being patrolled by wary lifeguards tasked with enforcing a swimming ban.

Some sunbathers insisted on just dipping their toes into the water as they watched a ship stacked with surveillance equipment edging along the coastline, with three smaller boats in tow.

Mohammed Salem, director of South Sinai Conservation, said from aboard one of the boats that conservation experts were not taking any risks this time.

The surveillance ship had been diverted from working for the electricity ministry, which had rented it for an exploratory project to run electric cables to Saudi Arabia, and it was now searching the depths for the killer shark.

Extra pay

After the first attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday, in which three Russian tourists were bitten, authorities said they captured two sharks, an oceanic whitetip and a mako shark, that they believed were responsible for the attacks.

Environment Minister Magid George said that the problem had been solved, and ordered that an extra month's pay be given to the men who caught the sharks.

The beaches were then reopened, despite a warning from a local marine NGO that the killer shark could still be at large.

South Sinai Governor Mohammed Shosha insists that at least one of the sharks captured on Friday was the culprit in last week's attacks.

"We did catch the sharks. There is another shark," he said on Monday.

Authorities are keen to restore normality to the thriving and popular resort, one of the pillars of the vital Egyptian tourism industry, which accounts for about 12% of the country's jobs.

In the past, the resort bounced back quickly from bombings that have killed scores of tourists and Egyptians over the past decade.


The government says the Islamist militants behind those attacks were arrested.

Locating the culprit behind Sunday's mauling may prove more difficult. The authorities cannot simply round up thousands of sharks and force confessions, as rights group allege they did with suspects in the Sinai bomb attacks.

Attacks by sharks on humans are also rare, and their motivation is not well understood. One US-based shark expert who spoke to AFP called the current search "a crapshoot".

Holidaymakers who witnessed Sunday's attack say they will not be taking any more chances.

"It's unpredictable, isn't it?" said a British tourist.

"You don't know what a wild animal will do. Why should you feel safe?"

Read more on:    egypt  |  north africa  |  marine life

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