Three round-the-world sailors reached land safely Thursday after sharks nearly sank their catamaran in the Coral Sea.
Both of the inflatable hulls on their 30-foot boat were damaged in several attacks by what were thought to be cookiecutter sharks — a small species not considered dangerous to people.
Aerial photos of the men’s rescue showed major damage to the boat, which was nearly submerged and a front section of one hull was completely missing.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority coordinated the rescue of the two Russian and one French sailor after they activated an emergency beacon early Wednesday 519 miles southeast of the Queensland state city of Cairns.
The three were rescued by a Panama-flagged freight ship, which landed them at Mooloolaba Harbor on the Sunshine Coast north of the Queensland capital Brisbane on Thursday, the authority said.
Rescued sailor Stanislav Beryozkin said he suspected the sharks mistook his boat for a whale.
He said the crew had prepared for sharks, but not for such numbers. “There were many. Maybe 20, maybe 30, maybe more,” Beryozkin 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.
Beryozkin, Evgeny Kovalevsky and Frenchman Vincent Thomas Garate had left St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 1, 2021, and had been sailing from Vanuatu to Cairns when they got into trouble.
Cookie cutter sharks grow to between 17 inches and 22 inches long and are named for the circular holes that bite in prey.
Joe Zeller, duty manager at the maritime agency’s Canberra response center, said the emergency beacon had saved the sailors’ lives.
“The emergency beacon absolutely saved their life. It enabled the Rescue Coordination Center to identify the precise location and tailor the most appropriate and quickest response to rescue them,” Zeller told Australia Broadcasting Corp.