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Murder by Shark Attack: Four True Stories

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Izzy is a longtime online writer with a particular interest in shark attacks.

Can you think of a more terrifying way to die?

Can you think of a more terrifying way to die?

Murder by Shark: Documented Atrocities

We've all heard of shark attacks, but have you heard of being deliberately thrown overboard to be killed by sharks? As horrific as it sounds, there are several documented cases of this actually happening.

During World War II, there were at least two documented incidents where Allies (soldiers and civilians) were put to death by shark attack. Neither story would be known today if it hadn't been for a brave observer in one case and a lone survivor in the other.

Who knows how many more atrocities were committed during World War II that never came to light?

In more recent history, there have been at least a couple of documented incidents of smugglers throwing Ethiopian and Somali refugees overboard in the shark-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden.

Why Do Sharks Kill?

The better question might be why do sharks bite humans? The reason this is a better question is that research suggests sharks aren't intending to hunt humans; rather, they bite because they are investigating a foreign object or because they are confused by thrashing, which might look a bit like dinner.

Often, after a bite or two, they determine we are not actually seals and decide they don't like the taste of us. Unfortunately, by that point it is usually too late—the initial bite proves fatal because has severed an artery. When an artery has been severed, we can expect to live for at most three minutes or so unless we receive immediate first aid.

Some sharks have swallowed people whole, which further suggests we are not especially enjoyable to eat. However, protein is protein, and a species needs to eat to survive,

General Imamura was found guilty for his role in the Pig Basket Atrocity

General Imamura was found guilty for his role in the Pig Basket Atrocity

The Pig Basket Atrocity: 1942

The Pig Basket Atrocity is a nightmarish story that actually occurred.

In 1942, during World War II, around 200 Allied soldiers were captured at Kempetai, in East Java.

They were put into pig baskets that were three feet long, loaded onto lorries (trucks), and transported to the coast. There were five open lorries, which meant that each lorry had to be carrying 40 pig baskets, each containing a single POW.

The heat was tremendous, 38°C (about 100°F), and the POWs were offered no food or water.

Once they reached the coast, they were carried out onto waiting boats (suggesting a well-planned operation), and they were then taken out to sea off Surabaya.

When the boats reached shark-infested waters, the victims were thrown overboard, baskets and all. The boats then returned to dock.

A credible witness at the time was 15-year-old Elizabeth Van Kempen who saw everything from the nearby mountain ridge of Semeru. She observed this with her father, who was killed three years later by the Kempetai for hiding weapons and ammunition.

Did anyone go to prison for committing the Pig Basket Atrocity? At first, no. Due to a lack of evidence, the commander in chief of the Japanese forces in Java, General Imamura, was acquitted at a court in the Netherlands. Later, however, an Australian military court later handed him a sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Japanese World War II submarine

Japanese World War II submarine

The Cheribon Atrocity: 1945

Occurring in July 1945, the Cheribon Atrocity was in many ways worse than the Pig Basket Atrocity as it involved innocent civilians.

In Northern Java, at the port of Cheribon, 90 European civilians—many of them women and children—were loaded onto the open deck of a Japanese naval submarine and taken out to sea.

During the short voyage, the submarine's guns, both fore and aft, were pointed at prisoners—and they feared the worst.

Suddenly, when the submarine reached shark-infested waters, the craft dived.

All of the people who had been on deck were eaten alive, except for a sole survivor who was later picked up by a Javanese fishing boat. By the time he was rescued, he had lost an arm and a foot.

He died shortly afterward, but not before telling the fishermen what had happened.

When the war was over this atrocity was reported to the relevant authorities, but by then the Japanese had destroyed all of the records. The submarine and its commanders were never identified.

No one ever stood trial for horrible crime.

Somali smugglers in the Gulf of Aden

Somali smugglers in the Gulf of Aden

Refugees Thrown to Sharks in the Gulf of Aden

In October 2006, in the Gulf of Aden (located between Somalia and Yemen), smugglers beat five Ethiopian refugees and then threw them overboard to be eaten by sharks, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

No one stood trial for this atrocity—nor is that likely to occur due to the unstable political situation in Somalia.

A similar documented incident occurred on March 22, 2007, off the coast of Yemen. Up to 71 Somali and Ethiopian refugees were beaten by smugglers before being thrown to waiting sharks in the waters around the boat, according to the UNHCR and reported in the International Shark Attack Files.

Gulf of Aden

Gulf of Aden

More About Shark Attacks


IzzyM (author) from UK on September 18, 2011:

I hadn't either, till I read about them in those files (the files are a download, by the way, not published online, just do a search for them). It gave me nightmares just thinking about it. Horrendous! Actually, I've just added a link to the hub to those files.

Karen N from United States on September 18, 2011:

I've never heard of this before, but it stands to reason that would be a good way to get rid of prisoners without record of it. But what a horrifying way to die!