Following recent shark attacks in Egypt, the country’s authorities plan to transport tourists to safe beaches free of charge, as most of the coastline of the popular resort Sharm el-Sheikh has been closed for swimming.
The announcement by Ahmed el-Edkawi, assistant secretary for the South Sinai region, follows Monday’s reports by the Chamber of Diving and Watersports that three shark experts from the US are heading to Egypt to help investigate the reasons behind the unusual series of shark attacks.
Such incidents have so far been rare at Egypt’s Red Sea resorts. But last week, an elderly German woman was killed and four other tourists – three Russians and one Ukrainian – suffered serious injuries from what is believed to be an oceanic whitetip shark.
The shark tore the arm off the German tourist on Sunday, killing her almost immediately. The rest of the victims lost fingers, hands or entire limbs, and suffered shattered bones.
These recent attacks are highly unusual as oceanic whitetips tend to hunt in open waters and do not normally approach beaches. Therefore, human encounters with this species are rare. For this reason, the Egyptian authorities had to appeal to foreign specialists, in order to understand what factors may be behind such unusual behavior.
The latest mauling on Sunday forced the authorities to indefinitely close the beaches of the popular diving and vacation resort on the Sinai Peninsula. Tourists were forced to leave the water throughout the area and police continue patrolling the coastline.
Jim and Joanna Farr, a couple from the UK, told Sky News it took them some time to leave the water where the shark was swimming.
"Our snorkel guide had shouted to us: 'Shark! Shark! Get out of the water' and we had to swim about 20 meters to get back to the boat by which time there were sirens going off, people were screaming," Joanna said.
With hotel beaches having been closed, many head for wild ones, Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reports referring to its source Alina Makarova, a representative of one of Russia’s leading travel companies.
Makarova said she asked one Russian family who recently returned from Egypt about the mood of Russian tourists in the resort. The family said they did not seem to be too bothered about the news.
The media and tourism companies report that between 500 and 600 thousand Russian tourists are still planning to holiday in Egypt in the coming weeks.
Sharm el-Sheikh attracts hundreds of thousands of foreign vacationers annually, and many fear the recent shark attacks could deal a blow to Egypt’s tourism industry – a vital source of income for the country.
Hotel bookings are already reported to be three times lower than normal. At the same time, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Akhram states that hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh remain overbooked.The Egyptian tourism industry is already taking steps to reverse possible damage.
“The problem with Egypt is that many beaches are private and belong to hotels. As a consequence, most of them are lacking lifeguards or first aid facilities,” Vladimir Kaganer, a general director at one of Russia’s tour operators told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.
“However, Egyptian authorities promise to install shark nets along the beaches and solve the problem by the New Year,” he explained.
The local administration has also allowed the use of beaches at Ras Mohammed National Park and Nabq Protectorate for recreational activities free of charge, and with free transportation. The waters there are believed to be safe. And those who plan scuba-diving are recommended to travel to Dahab, RIA Novosti quoted Ahmed el-Edkawi as saying.