“It is safe for diving,” puffed General Ahmed Saleh El Edkawi, the Deputy Governor of southern Sinai, as he pulled himself out of the Red Sea a few hundred yards from where a German woman was killed in a shark attack two days earlier.
He had taken to the waters — with a dive master and a police launch hovering over his head, just in case — to reassure tourists that they could return to the waters. But he admitted that he would await the ruling by three US marine biologists, led by George Burgess, head of the International Shark Attack File, who flew in yesterday to study the rare attacks.
The scene was reminiscent of the Steven Spielberg film Jaws when the Mayor of Amity forces his daughter into the sea to prove it is safe, before the shark that is killing tourists has been caught.
It was not scary at all. I saw a lot of beautiful marine life, wonderful visibility. Everything is wonderful.
Like the film’s mayor, the Egyptian authorities have already been caught out, with lethal results. They ordered beaches to be closed after four Russian swimmers were mauled in the waters off the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last week, then reopened them two days later after they had caught two sharks that could have been the man-eater. But then on Sunday a three-metre shark ripped the arm off a 70-year-old German woman 18 metres offshore from the luxury Hyatt Regency resort, setting off the alert once again.
After his dive, the general insisted: “It was not scary at all. I saw a lot of beautiful marine life, wonderful visibility. Everything is wonderful.”
While the boast was full of a salesman’s bravura — this is, after all, the jewel in the crown of Egypt’s vital tourism industry — it was at least more rational than the statement of his boss, Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha, the Governor, who told the Egyptian press this week that the shark might have been dropped into Sinai’s coastal waters by Mossad, Israel’s spy agency.
But the shark — believed to be an oceanic white tip, one of the most belligerent species — is still at large and dive masters laugh at the idea that the US experts will catch it. While some dive sites farther out to sea have been reopened, for dives closer to shore the clubs were taking enthusiasts to Dahab, farther north.
At the Regency and other plush resorts along the coast yesterday, red flags were flying and platoons of waiters and beach butlers whistled at would-be swimmers to keep out of the water.
The prospect of a killer shark does not deter everyone, especially tourists who had splashed out for a winter break in the sun.