Gap year students shot by robbers in Tanzania

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Two British gap year students on a diving expedition in Tanzania were recovering last night after being shot by bandits.

Grace Forster, 18, from Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, and Robert Scott, 20, from Bristol, were injured by a single bullet fired in the raid. The bullet passed through Ms Forster, missing her spine by millimetres, before hitting Mr Scott in the leg.

The pair were part of a 20-strong group attacked by seven armed raiders who set upon their camp on the remote island of Pemba in the Indian Ocean on Friday night.

Miss Forster's father, Ian, 52, said his daughter had a lucky escape and could have been permanently injured by the bullet. Speaking from his Dive In Scuba centre in Whittlesey, Mr Forster said: "It could have been really serious. She could have been paralysed or worse. We don't know if their intention was just to frighten everybody and [if] they were firing at the ground, but they subjected the group to a lot of humiliating treatment.

"I think most if not all youngsters were made to lie face down in the sand. They beat some of them around the head with machete handles. Certainly one girl was beaten. They stole a huge amount of money and personal possessions from the individuals."

He added that the group, who were on a marine conservation expedition run by an organisation called Frontier, had been warned that a piracy gang had been operating in the area, and that as a precaution they had been accompanied by unarmed guards. But the guards had either been beaten up or had fled.

Mr Forster said: "In Grace's case she was forced to lie face down after she had been shot, wavering between consciousness and unconsciousness. She hid her diving watch and passport in the sand so they couldn't get it. She's a very resilient girl. Obviously the locals had tipped off this gang of armed guys who seem to be operating some sort of modern piracy system. The youngsters had just arrived, so their possessions and money would be at a maximum."

After the attack the bandits made off with the group's boat, a Frontier spokesman said.

Mr Forster said his daughter, who had just completed her A-Levels and raised about £2,000 for the trip, was making a good recovery in hospital in Dar es Salaam and should be able to fly home this week. Mr Scott has been discharged from hospital.

According to the Foreign Office website, armed crime is increasing in Tanzania and there have been two serious attacks recently against expatriates on Zanzibar and Pemba islands.

Alex Wijeratna, 34, an NGO worker based in west London, described last night how his dive group had suffered a similar attack and were set upon by machete-wielding bandits during a trip to Pemba in February. "It was carnage. People were getting slapped around and I thought they were going to kill us all," he said.

Mr Wijeratna said several of his group were injured during their ordeal, in which thousands of pounds worth of cash and equipment were stolen by about six men.

William Hedley-Miller, a Frontier spokesman, said in a statement: "Frontier has been operating in Tanzania continuously since 1989 and this is the first such attack."

Frontier is part of the Society for Environmental Exploration, a conservation agency. It runs expeditions to Cambodia, Madagascar, Nicaragua and Tanzania, where volunteers carry out research for the protection of endangered tropical wildlife.

Mr Hedley-Miller could not say if Frontier had been aware of the previous attacks. The remaining volunteers were being taken off Pemba today. Senior Frontier staff were flying to Tanzania to assist local staff, Mr Hedley-Miller said.