Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shark attack victim describe his nightmare

Achmat Hassiem, the Cape Town lifeguard whose foot was bitten off by a shark, deliberately attracted the shark towards him to save his younger brother, Taariq.Speaking from his hospital bed on Monday, Hassiem, 24, said while he and Taariq, 17, were carrying out a lifeguard training exercise in the water off Sunrise Beach, Muizenberg, on Sunday, he saw the fin of the shark slicing through the water towards his brother."It was going for my brother.

I shouted: 'Taariq! Shark!' and then started splashing about in the water so that I would attract the shark to me. "The shark turned around and came towards me. It grabbed my ankle and shook me, then pulled me under water. I thought the game was over.

'I thought the game was over'"But as I went down, I told myself, 'No, you're not going to die now', and I started kicking it."It had my right leg and I kicked at its head with my left leg," Hassiem said."I don't know how many times I kicked it, maybe four times. But I needed to get breath, I could feel I had already taken in seawater. And then it let go.

"As I came up I saw my brother's hand in the water and grabbed it."I looked back and saw the shark coming towards me for a second time, but the guys in the boat pulled me in before he got to me. They saved my life."

'I don't know how to describe what it was like'Hassiem was rushed to shore and airlifted to Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic where he had emergency surgery to his leg. He is out of intensive care but will have further surgery on Tuesday."I don't know how to describe what it was like. "You don't feel pain. It had my leg in its mouth but I did not feel pain. It was just, I don't know, just this brute power, this massive brute force against me, against nothing."

Hassiem is putting on a brave face and already talks about going back to being a lifeguard, but he knows it will be hard to train again, having to learn to swim without his foot."I want to go back. I'm being as brave as I can. But I struggle to sleep. Every time I close my eyes I see it all again, every detail."Hassiem and his brother were training with three others from False Bay Lifesaving, Nic Pemberton, who was also in the water, and Kishan Kalan and Kim Calderwood in the lifesaving vessel.

He has not had trauma counselling and found himself comforting others on Monday."I spoke to my girlfriend who is on holiday in America and she just wanted to come home. I told her not to worry and said that by the time she comes back I will be running around again."Calderwood came to see him on Monday, upset and blaming herself."I told her she mustn't, because she did a great job, and that I owe my life to her and the crew on the boat."

As with every shark attack around the peninsula, this incident has caused panic and calls from some quarters for Great White sharks to be killed in False Bay.Asked what he thought about calls for shark killing, Hassiem said: "I don't know about that. I don't know how sharks think. I just know they're one powerful massive piece of armour. But I know that when you go into the sea, you are in another creature's territory, the shark's home ground.

He's doing what he does naturally."Surfer Paul Botha believes in "selective" killing of sharks bigger than five metres, about six a year, which could be offered to hunters for $50 000 each. He believes this would raise money for research and protection of humans, and would remove the sharks that attack, and reduce the "overpopulation" of Great Whites. But shark researcher Alison Koch says Botha has no basis for such claims. "Sharks do not see humans as prey. If they were turning to people for food, we would be seeing attacks every day," Koch said.

There was no merit in "selective" killing of big sharks. White Sharks were in decline worldwide, and in her six years researching in False Bay, she has seen only three sharks over five metres. "Female White Sharks under 5m and males under 4m to 4.5m are not yet sexually mature. If you kill those over 5m, you're taking out the sexually mature animals and the population will come crashing down."


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