Egypt shark attacks: Why are Red Sea attacks rising?

Another shark attack Sunday in Egypt left a German tourist dead. Egyptian officials have closed Sharm el-Sheikh beaches. But why are there more shark attacks now?

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
An Egyptian security boat patrols for sharks off the Sharm el- Sheikh beach resort. A shark killed a German tourist Sunday.

A shark attacked an elderly German tourist at an Egyptian Red Sea resort, killing her almost immediately, security and diving officials said Sunday, only days after sharks badly mauled four other European tourists in the waters.

The German woman was swimming in the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh, a famed diving and vacation resort in the Sinai peninsula, when the shark attacked, Egyptian security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to brief the media.

"It was definitely a shark attack," said Hesham Gabar, the head of Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Water Sports. The German Embassy in Cairo could not immediately be reached for comment.

IN PICTURES: Top shark attack locations

Sunday's deadly attack, which forced authorities to indefinitely close the resort's beaches, comes after oceanic white tip sharks mauled three Russians and a Ukrainian tourist last week, also off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Why now?

Environmentalists warned that the string of recent attacks is likely a result of the Red Sea's declining ecosystem. Gabar, the head of the Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (CDWS) said he's seen a jump in the number of sharks off Egypt's Red Sea coast, which he said could be caused by overfishing, which could force sharks to swim closer to shore in search of food.

The spate of shark attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh – one of Egypt's main beach resorts that attracts hundreds of thousands of foreign vacationers annually – could deal a blow the country's tourism industry, a vital source of income.

Beach tourism is believed to contribute some 66 percent of Egypt's total income from tourism, which is expected to reach $12.3 billion by end of the current fiscal year ending 2011, Tourism Minister Zohair Garanah was quoted as saying in state-owned Al-Gomhuria daily.

In September prime minister predicted the country's economy could grow by six percent in the current fiscal year, boosted by strong first quarter results in tourism.

Beaches reopened, then closed

Following last week's attacks, Egyptian authorities closed the beaches in Sharm el-Sheikh. On Thursday, the Environment Ministry said two sharks suspected of mauling the four tourists were caught.

Authorities allowed swimmers back into the waters Saturday after divers from the CDWS and the Environment Ministry scoured popular diving sites in an effort to ensure they were safe.

The Environment Ministry also ordered authorities to beef up security measures at beaches in the area. requiring diving centers to provide staff to supervise beaches and watch the waters for sharks.

But following Sunday's deadly attack, Sharm el-Sheik's beaches were closed indefinitely so as not to endanger the lives of tourists, said Zayad el-Baz, the deputy head of the CDWS.

IN PICTURES: Top shark attack locations

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