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Egypt investigates alleged shark attack off northern coast

The Egyptian Ministry of Environment rolled out a program to track changes in sharks’ behavior and their attacks on humans, following allegations that a shark attacked a diver in the Northern Coast.
Tourists walk past a red flag serving as a warning of shark sightings on a beach in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Dec. 8, 2010.

CAIRO — The Egyptian government has announced a program to monitor sharks after a citizen was injured in the northern coast.

Tarek el-Qanawaty, the nature protection advisor at the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, told Cairo24 news website on Sept. 12 that the program will track changes in sharks’ behavior following a series of attacks on humans.

Qanawaty said a committee formed by the ministry to implement the program has received the needed equipment from a foreign party (which he did not mention). 

A foreign shark specialist arrived in Egypt a few days ago, he added. The expert will be assisted by an Egyptian team in implementing the one-year program beginning in early October, Qanawaty said. It will install devices on the backs of sharks to track and monitor their movement.

The announcement comes in the wake of a severe arm injury on Sept. 10 to a diver who was swimming three kilometers from a private beach on the northern coast of Egypt.

On the same day, three villages on the coast — Marassi, Hacienda Bay and Stella — announced a total closure of all beaches until the causes of the incident are learned.

The Ministry of Environment said Sept. 10 that the northern coasts are safe from sharks and that an urgent committee of experts determined the diver's injuries were not caused by a shark attack, but rather by a sharp metal object. 

In a telephone interview on Al-Youm Alfa channel on Sept. 13, the director of the nature protection department at the Ministry of Environment, Mohamed Salem, said, “There are global records documenting [shark attacks] incidents that occur around the world, and Egypt participates in filling this database.” 

This database does not contain any record of a shark attack in the Northern Coast in the history of Egypt, he said, but “in the northern Mediterranean, in Italy, Greece, and Cyprus, attacks are recorded due to the difference in water temperature.” 

Mustafa Fouda, advisor for the environment minister on biodiversity, told Al-Monitor that the presence of sharks in the Mediterranean is normal.  

Fouda continued, “The social media’s photos of the diver's wound allegedly caused by a shark bite are fabricated. A shark bite leaves traces of the fish's teeth in the wound and shows lacerations in the affected area. This is not shown in the photos of the diver’s cut. The news may have been fabricated for another purpose, such as undermining the tourism season.”

He explained that the Ministry of Environment’s program for monitoring sharks aims to track down the types of sharks found in the seas, their geographical distribution and their gathering places. “This will clarify the procedures that tourist resorts must follow to protect their guests,” he said.

Former Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy told Al-Monitor that sharks are found in the Mediterranean Sea (north of Egypt) as well as in the Red Sea (east of Egypt), but “sharks have never caused a problem in the Mediterranean in Egypt before, so the allegations of an incident of this kind are illogical.”

Egypt has never before witnessed any shark incident on its northern coasts. But most recently in the Red Sea, on Dec. 2, 2020, a shark attacked a German tourist in the Elphinstone Reef, north of Marsa Alam. The tourist was lightly bitten in the arm.

Former advisor to the Minister of Environment Mostafa Muharram told Al-Monitor that sharks approach coasts when their usual habitat changes. “This change may occur due to overfishing," he said, "or as a result of waste and dead animals being dumped from ships and boats in the seas.” 

 

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