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Navy diver Paul Degelder attacked by shark in Sydney Harbour

The Australian navy diver who has lost his hand after being mauled by a shark in Sydney Harbour yesterday was due to take part in an exchange with the Royal Navy in Britain.

Able Seaman Paul de Gelder, 31, was taking part in a training exercise near the navy base at Garden Island, Sydney, on Wednesday when he was attacked by what is thought to have been a 10ft bull shark.

He was to take part in a three-month exchange with the Royal Navy’s Southern Diving Unit One based at Plymouth.

A spokesperson for the Royal Australian Navy told The Times that the exchange was “designed to improve interoperability between the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy”.

Able Seaman de Gelder’s trip is now in doubt as he may not dive with the navy again because of his injuries.

The navy clearance diver’s right hand is believed to have been almost severed by the ferocious attack which also left him with large bites on his thigh.

Able Seaman de Gelder’s family confirmed today that he had lost his right hand above the wrist and may also have to have his right leg amputated.

“However he is in high spirits,” the family said in a statement.

“The family are very appreciative of the excellent medical services provided by the navy for Paul now and into the future and are thankful for the ongoing assistance the navy is providing to the family.”

The attack has prompted a debate in Sydney about the safety of swimming in one of Australia’s most famous waterways.

The government of New South Wales has warned people not to swim in the harbour, where the shark population is believed to have grown in recent years because of regenerated sea life and cleaner waters.

Many of the harbour beaches and pools are protected by shark nets, but Ian Macdonald, the state’s Primary Industries Minister, warned yesterday against swimming in unprotected waters.

“When entering areas like Sydney Harbour, you are entering their [the sharks’] domain,” Mr Macdonald said.

Local fishermen have reported a massive increase in shark sightings in the harbour.

Craig McGill said that he had never seen so many in more than 15 years of being a fishing guide. He added that nobody should rely on the low shark attack statistics when thinking about swimming in the harbour.

“That’s like saying: what are your chances of being hit by a car if you play on a suburban back street versus the highway? It’s the same with sharks,” he said.

Despite this, the Sydney Harbour Swim Classic event, in which more than 850 swimmers are expected to race across the harbour, will still go ahead next month.

Organisers said that Lifeguarding Services Australia provided professional lifeguards, marine safety officers, rescue boats and paramedics to monitor the event, and divers would swim underneath the swimmers to monitor their safety.

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