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Russian Inflatable Trimaran Circumnavigation Ends After Cookie Cutter Shark Attack


  • Russian Inflatable Trimaran Circumnavigation Ends After Cookie Cutter Shark Attack

    Russian Expedition Team Rescued After Sharks Attack Their Boat

    Three times a charm as the old saying goes for an expedition team from Russia that was attempting to complete a circumnavigation in an inflatable catamaran. The team was rescued overnight after the third mishap during their voyage, this time after they reported their vessel was attacked by sharks.

    The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) reports they began receiving a distress signal from an emergency position beacon (EPIRB) around 1:30 a.m. and they quickly determined it was registered to an approximately 30-foot inflatable catamaran named Tion-Russian Ocean Way. They began coordinating a rescue contacting a car carrier, the Dugong Ace operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines of Japan, that was in the area and also dispatching the Cairns-based Challenger Rescue Aircraft to provide support.

    The signal was coming for a location approximately 450 nautical miles to the southeast of Cairns in the Coral Sea. AMSA said the three sailors aboard the catamaran were well-prepared and remained calm during the rescue operation. They said the fact that they had a distress beacon helped greatly in the rescue.

    The team, which consisted of two Russian sailors and a French citizen, had departed Vanuatu on the latest leg of the circumnavigation and was heading to Cairns. It was a trip of approximately 1,400 miles and was expected to take two to three weeks.

    After they were taken safely aboard the car carrier, they recounted a tale reporting that their inflatable boat had been attacked by sharks. AMSA duty manager Joe Zeller told reporters that “a large section of the stern of the catamaran is missing.” He said both hulls of the vessel had been damaged by several shark attacks.

    The expedition has had a series of mishaps. It began from St. Petersburg on July 1, 2021, with the team hoping to set a new record for a circumnavigation aboard an inflatable trimaran in a trip sponsored by the Russian Geographical Society, a private institution. After sailing almost half of the globe, the original vessel, Russian Ocean Way ran into problems during the leg of the trip between Chile and Rapanui (Easter Island). Reports are that the steering failed on the first vessel but the crew reached Easter Island. Luckily for the team, the manufacturer of the trimaran had stored an inflatable catamaran on the island. It had been there for almost eight years. The crew began working on refurbishing the vessel and preparing it to continue their voyage.

    They were due to leave Easter Island at the end of April and the reports said they were loading 100 kg of food, 500 liters of water, and 300 liters of gasoline. They were approaching Tahiti in June when the new vessel was attacked for the first time by sharks. The hull was also punctured but they were able to make repairs.

    The car carrier is reporting that the crew is in good health. They are expected to arrive in Brisbane tomorrow.


    Sharks in the Pacific: The Unprecedented Sinking of the Russian Ocean Way – TION

    The vast, serene expanse of the Pacific Ocean hides many mysteries, but none as dramatic as the recent sinking of the catamaran, Russian Ocean Way – TION. This vessel, which was on a global expedition, met an unexpected adversary: sharks. A tale of survival, determination, and the unpredictable nature of the sea unfolds.

    The First Strike
    On September 4th, the tranquil waters of the Pacific were disrupted when sharks attacked the catamaran, severely damaging its rear-left pontoon. This led to the pontoon being completely submerged. Julia Kalyuzhnaya, the expedition’s shore team leader, speculated that the sharks might have mistaken the pontoon for some marine mammal, prompting the attack. “These are cookie-cutter sharks, prevalent in the Coral Sea. Their interaction with inflatable pontoons, like the one on the Russian Ocean Way – TION, is undocumented because no one has ventured into these waters on such a vessel before,” she explained.

    A Second Assault
    Despite the initial damage, the catamaran managed to cover about a hundred miles over the next day. However, as dusk approached on September 5th, the sharks returned, this time targeting the right pontoon. With both pontoons compromised, the vessel began to sink, prompting the crew to send out an SOS signal. Within 45 minutes, the cargo ship Dugong Ace came to their rescue.

    Iscelus brasiliensis

    The cookie-cutter shark, scientifically known as Iscelus brasiliensis, is a unique species of small shark that is part of the family Dalatiidae. Here are some key characteristics and interesting facts about this fascinating creature:

    Appearance: The cookie-cutter shark gets its name from the distinctive, round wounds it leaves on its prey. These wounds look as though they’ve been made by a cookie cutter.

    Size: They are relatively small, with mature individuals typically measuring around 20 inches (50 cm) for males and up to 22 inches (56 cm) for females.

    Habitat: Cookie-cutter sharks are deep-water sharks, often found at depths of 1,000 to 4,000 meters. However, they are known to come closer to the surface during the night.

    Feeding Mechanism: Unlike many other sharks that tear chunks out of their prey, the cookie-cutter shark attaches itself to its target using its lips and then extracts a plug of flesh using its sharp, serrated teeth. This results in a crater-like wound.

    Diet: They feed on larger marine animals, including other sharks, seals, whales, and large fish. The wounds they inflict are typically not fatal to their victims.

    Bioluminescence: The cookie-cutter shark has light-producing organs called photophores on its belly. This bioluminescence is believed to help them attract prey. The glow from their underside can make them appear smaller and less threatening to potential prey swimming beneath them.

    Distribution: They are found in warm, oceanic waters worldwide, especially near islands.

    Reproduction: Cookie-cutter sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning the female retains the eggs inside her body until they hatch, after which she gives birth to live young.

    The cookie-cutter shark’s unique feeding strategy and its resulting signature wounds on marine animals have made it a subject of interest for marine biologists and researchers.

    A Journey Fraught with Challenges

    The global expedition, part of the “Following the Path of Russian Circumnavigators” project, began in July 2021. Spearheaded by Evgeny Kovalevsky and Stanislav Berezkin, the journey was no stranger to challenges. The trimaran they initially set out on required repairs at almost every stop.

    In March 2023, while in the Pacific, the trimaran’s steering mechanism broke. Setting sail from the Chilean port of Talcahuano in late February 2023, the crew faced a storm in mid-March. Post-storm, they discovered the severe damage to the steering mechanism. Unable to repair it themselves, they sent out a distress signal. The cargo ship Sounion, with a Ukrainian-Filipino crew, responded. The rescue was perilous, with the trimaran being tossed about by the waves, making the transfer to the cargo ship a dangerous endeavor. “The trimaran was being thrown about three meters by the waves. To get onto the ladder dropped from the deck, we had to wait for the trimaran to be lifted by a wave. We had less than a second to grab the ladder before the cargo ship’s side shot upwards, and the trimaran dropped and bounced away,” recounted Stanislav Berezkin, the Russian vessel’s captain.

    Once aboard the Sounion, the crew learned that their rescuers were Ukrainians. The cargo ship initially towed the trimaran, but it eventually broke free and sank.

    Following this, Kovalevsky and Berezkin continued their expedition on a catamaran owned by Dmitry Trubitsin. After some modifications, it was renamed Russian Ocean Way – TION.

    Lessons from the Deep

    The ocean, with all its beauty, is unpredictable. The Russian Ocean Way – TION’s encounter with sharks is a stark reminder of the sea’s mysteries and might. For sailors and adventurers, it underscores the importance of preparedness, resilience, and respect for the ocean’s inhabitants. As we venture into the waters, let’s remember that we are but visitors in the vast marine world, and the sea always has stories to tell, some awe-inspiring, others cautionary.
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