Egypt resort limits swimming after shark attacks

A 48-kilometre stretch of Sharm El-Sheikh remains closed to swimmers after a spate of shark attacks, including a fatal attack on a tourist, in the past week.

SHARM EL-SHEIKH // Egypt today kept most of the 48-kilometre coastline off the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh closed to swimmers after a spate of shark attacks killed one European tourist and maimed several others in the past week.

Authorities diverted novice divers to the closest major resort, Dahab, about 80 kilometres north of Sharm. They reopened the waters off Sharm to experienced divers, except for a two-kilometre stretch where the shark attacks occurred. Three spots were designated for swimmers and snorkelers - mostly closed bays, mangroves and a national park.

Shark attacks in the area are rare and authorities were scrambling to prevent them from cutting into the crucial revenues that Red Sea tourism brings to Egypt.

Sharm's trouble's began in the middle of last week when sharks mauled three Russians and one Ukrainian tourist. One Russian woman had her hand bitten off and another lost a hand and a leg. But all four victims survived.

Then on Sunday, a shark tore the arm off a 70-year-old German tourist while she was snorkeling and she died almost immediately.

On Monday, authorities closed around 50 kilometres of Sharm's beaches to swimmers and divers. But they eased the restrictions for experienced divers yesterday, allowing them back into the water except along the two-kilometre stretch where the attack occurred.

Ziad al-Basil, deputy chairman of Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Watersports, said authorities lifted some restrictions Tuesday after an exploration dive by professionals, who deemed the area safe for experienced divers.

He said about 10 of more than 50 dive sites in Sharm remain off limits. Dive boat trips have fallen to about 25 a day, down from about 150 on average before.

"Divers come here to see sharks. For beginners, we gave them alternatives," he said. "For non-divers, their focus is on the resort as a warm destination. A big section of them go on glass-bottom boat and semi-submarines, these are fully booked."

Experts so far have been at a loss to explain the reasons for the sudden spate of shark attacks.

Environmentalists think overfishing or depletion of food sources from other causes could be driving sharks closer to shore in search of food. There are also accusations that tourist boats are illegally dumping meat into the water to attract sharks for passengers wanting to photograph them.

Another theory says sharks have been drawn to the area by the crew of a ship transporting livestock that dumped dead animals overboard.

Before Sunday's fatal attack, authorities believed they had caught and killed the two sharks that mauled the other four tourists, but that drew criticism from environmentalists.