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Shark kills tourist diving without cage

WEST PALM BEACH — Scuba Adventures' Web site says it offers the opportunity to get "face to face" with sharks.

To ensure "the best results we will be 'chumming' the water with fish and fish parts. Consequently, there will be food in the water at the same time as the divers. Please be aware that these are not 'cage' dives, they are open water experiences."

On Monday, an Austrian tourist was pronounced dead after being bitten by a shark while on a Scuba Adventures dive near the Bahamas.

Scuba Adventures owner Jim Abernethy said that in 25 years of operations, he had never had an accident. "At this time my heart and soul goes out to the loved ones and family members who are affected by this unfortunate accident,'' he said.

"I would never had done any of this if I thought there would have been an accident."

But Neal Watson of the Bahamas Diving Association said, "Abernethy would not use a cage, and this is the result. It's total negligence."

It's not known what kind of shark bit Markus Groh, 49, a Vienna lawyer and diving enthusiast. Austrian media reported he was bitten in the leg, but authorities would not confirm that.

He was on a dive trip Sunday when he was bitten about 50 miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, said Karlick Arthur, Austrian consul general in Miami.

The crew aboard the Shear Water called the Coast Guard, and a helicopter flew Groh to a hospital in Miami. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death an accident.

On the weekend of the fatal attack, according to the schedule on the company's Web page, the Shear Water was on a seven-day tour called the Great Hammerhead and Tiger Shark Expedition. The company demands that divers demonstrate advanced scuba experience through logbooks and interviews with the company's staff.

Abernethy blogged about a shark expedition at the beginning of the month.

"This week's shark expedition started off with calm seas and Great Hammerheads, Tigers and Bull Sharks every day for the first three days," he wrote. "The Hammerheads arrived within minutes every day. The water was clear and the sharks were plentiful."

For years Abernethy and other tour operators ran shark dives off Broward and Palm Beach counties, feeding the sharks to ensure a successful experience for their clients. The practice drew complaints from spear fishermen, swimmers and others who worried that it would lead sharks to associate people with food.

After a series of highly contentious meetings, at which Abernethy and other tour operators insisted the practice was safe, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned shark feeding in 2001. For the past five years, Abernethy has run his shark dives in the Bahamas.

The Bahamas Diving Association cautioned Abernethy's company to use more care. The group, of which Abernethy is not a member, sent him and other dive operators a cease-and-desist letter last year asking them to stop diving for sharks in open water without cages.

"For close to 30 years, we've been recommending certain guidelines, which have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to dive safely," Watson said.

"I think that they just continue to push the envelope and try to make it more and more and more exciting.

"It reached the point where it wasn't a matter of if, but when an incident was going to occur."

Information from the Associated Press, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald was used in this report.

Shark kills tourist diving without cage 02/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 8:56am]
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