Just when sharks thought it was safe ...

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 12:00am

A petrified young couple, mistakenly abandoned by the rest of their diving party, paddles frantically in a vast, unfriendly stretch of ocean ... as the fin of a killer shark circles menacingly and death closes in on them, minute by excruciating minute.

Open Water has reawakened people's innate terror of sharks. Based on the true story of Americans Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who disappeared after being stranded off Cairns six years ago, the low-budget hit has been described as a cross between Jaws and the Blair Witch Project. It's showing in cinemas across Hong Kong on the same weekend that Traffic has chosen to release its report on the implementation of the Cites shark listing in Hong Kong and the mainland.

The success of the movie highlights the strength of the irrational fear sharks can provoke. In reality, there were only 55 shark attacks worldwide last year - and only four were fatal.

The last shark attacks in Hong Kong were recorded in 1995, when three people were killed in the space of a fortnight in Clearwater Bay. Two large sharks were filmed in the water by a helicopter TV crew after the last of the three attacks in June.

People have speculated that the same group of sharks was behind the three attacks, and possibly responsible for an earlier series of attacks in the 1990s (including the death of a woman at Silverstrand Beach in 1991) and two attacks in 1993. Witnesses described seeing a shark matching the description of a Great White in at least one of the attacks.

There's been no confirmed sighting of a shark since 1995 - although in June this year Repulse Bay beach was closed after two reported sightings of a shark in as many days.