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Small cookiecutter sharks revealed to have attacked catamaran sparking dramatic rescue

Cookiecutter sharks grow to between 42 centimeters and 56 centimeters (17 inches and 22 inches) long and are named for the circular holes they bite in prey (NOAA Phot Library/Flickr)
Cookiecutter sharks grow to between 42 centimeters and 56 centimeters (17 inches and 22 inches) long and are named for the circular holes they bite in prey (NOAA Phot Library/Flickr)

Three round-the-world sailors reached land safely on Thursday after a shoal of 40-centimetre cookiecutter sharks nearly sank their catamaran.

Both of the inflatable hulls on their nine-metre boat were damaged in attacks by the small species which are not considered dangerous to people.

Aerial photos of the men’s rescue showed major damage to the boat, which was nearly submerged with a front section of one hull completely missing.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority coordinated the rescue of the two Russian and one French sailor after they activated an emergency beacon on Wednesday some 520 miles south-east of the Queensland city of Cairns.

The three were rescued by a Panama-flagged freight ship, which landed them at Mooloolaba Harbour north of Brisbane today.

Rescued sailor Stanislav Beryozkin said he suspected the sharks had mistaken his boat for a whale.

Evgeny Kovalevsky, Stanislav Berezkin and Vincent Thomas Etienne pose for a selfie in Efate Island, Vanuatu, on August 28 (via REUTERS)
Evgeny Kovalevsky, Stanislav Berezkin and Vincent Thomas Etienne pose for a selfie in Efate Island, Vanuatu, on August 28 (via REUTERS)

“There were many. Maybe 20, maybe 30, maybe more,” he told Seven News television.

They had used double-layered material to protect the inflatable hulls. “But some of them jump and bite above the double material,” he said.

Mr Beryozkin, Evgeny Kovalevsky and Frenchman Vincent Thomas Garate had left St Petersburg in Russia on July 1, 2021, and had been sailing from Vanuatu to Cairns when they got into trouble.

Cookiecutter sharks grow to between 42 centimeters and 56 centimeters (17 inches and 22 inches) long and are named for the circular holes they bite in prey.

Joe Zeller, duty manager at the maritime agency’s Canberra response centre, said the emergency beacon had saved the sailors’ lives.

“The emergency beacon absolutely saved their life. It enabled the Rescue Coordination Centre to identify the precise location and tailor the most appropriate and quickest response to rescue them,” Mr Zeller told Australia Broadcasting Corp.