Shark victim's family warned

By Elizabeth Binning, Angela Gregory

A teacher in Vanuatu says he twice warned the family of the New Zealand girl killed by a shark not to get into the water.

Lapen Tilison told the Weekend Herald from Atchin Island that he always warned visiting yachties to stay out of the water where 7-year-old Alysha Webster of Coromandel Peninsula was fatally bitten.

Mr Tilison had paddled out in a canoe to Alysha's parents' yacht just after it pulled into the attractive white, sandy bay where he lived, shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday.

"They had just dropped the anchor and jumped in for a swim," he said. "I went out and introduced myself and told them it was not safe to swim in the sea."

Mr Tilison said he made it clear that fishing boats came into the bay to wash down, and the strong smell attracted sharks.

A fishing boat was at the beach that day doing just that, he said.

"I told them not to swim because here we do not swim in the salt water. We swim in the fresh water, not on the beach."

Mr Tilison said he invited the family, from Whenuakite near Whitianga, to relax onshore instead.

He said there were local children in the water but they were close to shore where it was safe.

They got out of the water and had lunch, but afterwards went for another swim.

Mr Tilison said he went back to the boat to warn them again.

He heard Alysha ask her mother if she could go for a swim.

"Her mummy said, 'It's not safe' ... but she went for a swim ... after 10 minutes the shark attacked."

Mr Tilison, aged 40, said this was the fourth death he remembered, the last three years ago.

He had lived on Atchin Island all his life and had five children, who all knew not to swim in the sea.

"We are really, really down in our hearts because we told them not to swim."

Mr Tilison said just two days earlier locals saw a great white shark in the area. "It was a very big one ... they thought it was the same one."

About 1000 people lived on Atchin Island and the death had shocked the villagers, he said.

"We really mourn for that little girl because she died on our island, and we are very sorry for her."

A local tour operator on the mainland, Peter Fidelio, said tourists were always warned not to swim on Atchin Island.

"People here realise it's not safe."

The Lonely Planet guide warns visitors that Malekula's waters teem with sharks, especially along the east coast.

The shark attack has dominated the front page of Vanuatu's only daily newspaper, the Vanuatu Daily Post.

The Daily Post said the provincial Government planned to hold an emergency meeting to discuss setting up warning signs in the areas sharks were known to frequent.

- additional reporting: Elizabeth Binning in Port Vila


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