Tourists tell of shark panic as 'sea turned red'

Shocked holidaymakers largely shunned the beaches of the luxury resort Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday after a shark killed an elderly German tourist 20 metres from the shore.

Despite assurances from the Egyptian authorities that the Red Sea resort's shallow waters were safe, only a few sunbathers ventured down to the shore under the watchful eye of lifeguards.

British tour firms advised against bathing and cancelled all water excursions at the resort, which draws thousands of Britons every year to its sun-drenched coastline and renowned reefs.

Sunday's incident was the second shark attack at Sharm-el-Sheikh in days, threatening the resort's reputation as a leading tourist destination. Three Russians and a Ukrainian tourist were mauled last Wednesday, prompting the closure of the beaches and a hunt for the predators.

Officials declared the beaches safe at the weekend after killing two sharks they believed responsible for last week's attacks, despite urgent warnings that the Egyptians had identified the wrong predators. A day later a shark attacked a 70-year-old German woman who was snorkelling. Lifeguards and tourists rushed to help, but were too late.

A British tourist, Ellen Barnes, 31, described the scene. "I was being thrown around in the blood. The shark was thrashing and tearing at this poor woman and I could barely keep my head above the water it was so choppy," she told The Sun. "It was spine-chilling."

Egyptian officials insisted yesterday that the shallow waters were safe, according to Sky TV. "We are not allowing people to swim in deep water," the Tourism Minister, Zuhair Garana, said, before adding that "diving is being allowed. We are advised that sharks will not attack divers." Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Watersports said that diving had been suspended around Naama Bay, the scene of the attacks.

The authorities announced yesterday that they were flying in foreign experts from the US to help investigate the attacks. They have also diverted a state-of-the-art surveillance vessel to trawl the area for the shark. Their intensified efforts come amid criticism that the Egyptians responded to the first attack with an arbitrary cull of two sharks which bore no resemblance to photographs taken of the predator. Sharm-el-Sheikh is one of Egypt's premier tourist destinations and the government is keen to restore confidence there ahead of the holiday season when tourists arrive in droves in search of winter sun.

Meanwhile, locals remained divided over the cause of the attacks. Some suggested that animals shipped in for last month's Eid-al-Adha celebrations had died en route and were thrown overboard, attracting the sharks. A more bizarre theory pinned the blame on Mossad, suggesting that it was an Israeli plot to hit Egypt's tourism industry. "What is being said about Mossad throwing the deadly shark [in the sea] to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question," South Sinai's Governor, Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha, was quoted as saying on an Arabic news site.