Sailors Rescued from Australian Coast after Sharks Sink Boat

In a bizarre incident off the coast of Australia, three sailors found themselves in trouble when their catamaran sustained damage from a lesser known species of shark. Fortunately for the stricken trio, a swift rescue operation by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) ensured their safe return to dry land.

The crew, who have been documenting their round-the-world journey on Instagram, faced their first encounter with sharks on Sept. 4. The sharks inflicted severe damage to the rear left cylinder of their nine-meter inflatable catamaran, causing it to submerge underwater.

The following day, sharks again targeted the catamaran. They damaged the left side of the boat, which then began to sink. It was at this point that the crew sent out an SOS.

Cookiecutter sharks

The culprits were a small species of shark called Cookiecutter sharks. The Cookiecutter doesn’t grow more than 55cm long. Despite this, it has a reputation for gouging round holes, as if cut by a cookiecutter, out of other marine mammals.

Cookiecutter shark jaws, which look well adapted for chomping through an inflatable boat. Photo: Don Kobayashi

A swift rescue

The AMSA promptly responded to the distress signal from the Russian-registered vessel at 1:30 am this morning. The catamaran, which was en route from Vanuatu, was located some 800km from its final destination of Cairns. On closer inspection, it became clear to the rescue party that both hulls had sustained significant shark damage.

Russian sailing expedition attacked by sharks off Vanuatu

Images from the rescue show the catamaran and large rescue vessel in the Coral Sea. Photo: Australian Maritime Safety Authority


Unable to rescue the sailors alone, AMSA sought the assistance of the Panama-flagged cargo ship, Dugong Ace, as well as deploying a rescue aircraft to the scene. The ship arrived on the scene just 45 minutes after the initial distress call. It picked up the catamaran crew, which consisted of two Russians and one French national.

Originally bound for Shanghai, the Dugong Ace is now re-routed for Brisbane where the lucky sailors are expected to land tomorrow. In the meantime, their catamaran has been left to the mercy of the Coral Sea and a pack of hungry Cookiecutter sharks.

Ash Routen

Ash Routen is a writer for ExplorersWeb. He has been writing about Arctic travel, mountaineering, science, camping, hiking, and outdoor gear for 7 years. As well as ExplorersWeb, he has written for Gear JunkieRed Bull, Outside, The Guardian, and many other outlets. Based in Leicester, UK, Routen is an avid backpacker and arctic traveler who writes about the outdoors around a full-time job as an academic.