Tourist beaches empty after Red Sea shark attacks

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Beaches were almost deserted at Egypt's popular 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 in front of a luxury hotel suspiciously eyed the blue waters where Sunday's frenzied attack took place 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 in her 20s, told AFP she had been sunbathing on the afternoon of the attack 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 (six to 10 foot) long," Turenko said, pointing to the turquoise waters off a long jetty. "Her arms were in the air."

Niclas Westmar, a Swedish clothing-store owner was listening to his music player and did not hear the screams. His wife yanked off his earphones and yelled: "Shark attack," he said.

Witnesses say Westmar jumped off his sunbed and raced up the jetty, coming face to face with the shark mauling the woman just metres (yards) away.

"I wasn't thinking. I just thought I need to get her out of the water," the 40-year-old Swede said. But when he looked down, he decided against jumping in.

"It was too dangerous. I saw two sharks," he said.

He ran back down the jetty, and yelling at a lifeguard to join him, swam up to within metres of the woman, who was now floating facedown in the water circled by a growing cloud of blood.

"I was yelling like a military officer" at a lifeguard, he said.

The lifeguard edged toward the woman and pulled her in to Westmar, who wrapped an arm around her and swam to shore. But it was too late for the 70-year-old woman.

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

A conservation official said they were looking into reports that more than one shark may have been involved in the attack.

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 on an exploratory project and it was now searching the depths for the killer shark.

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 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 tourism industry vital to the Egyptian economy, accounting for about 12 percent of the country's jobs.

In the past, the resort bounced back quickly from bombings that 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.

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."

© 2010 AFP

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