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A TEENAGE girl from France was killed in a shark attack while swimming off the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, the fifth person to be killed by sharks on the island since 2011.
Local officials said the 15-year-old was attacked in the mid-afternoon while swimming just five metres from shore in the shallows of Saint-Paul bay on the western side of the island.
The teenager's body was sliced in two at the torso, and then "‘a part of her body was taken away by the shark", said Gina Hoarau, the head of public safety on the island.
The girl, who was named only as "Sarah" by French media, was swimming with another girl her age when the attack - just metres from a popular restaurant - happened.
The other girl had just climbed on shore when the shark struck.
"The conditions of this attack are very surprising. We didn't think a shark could come so close to the shore,'' said Ms Hoarau.
The girl, who lived with her mother in France, was on vacation with her father, head of a yacht club in St. Paul.
Fatal shark attacks around the world
10 fatal shark attacks around the world since July 14, 2012
She is the first swimmer to be killed by a shark in the island's waters.
Authorities confirmed that the beach was not monitored and swimming was prohibited but that a warning sign was often vandalised.
Numerous sharks had been sighted in the area in recent weeks.
There have been 11 shark attacks recorded in Reunion since 2011, all involving surfers.
In May this year, 36-year-old French honeymooner Stephane Berhamel was killed by a shark while surfing not far from the island's popular beach of Brisants de Saint-Gilles.
The horrific attack was witnessed by the victim's wife as she sunbathed on the beach.
In August 2012, Alexander Rassiga, 21, was killed by sharks at Trois-Bassins located on the west coast of Reunion Island.
Rassiga was surfing when he was bitten below the knee. He survived that but a second bite severed an artery, killing him.
After the attack, Guy Gazzo, a diver and member of the Regional Fisheries Committee, said there was a “clear overpopulation of sharks” on the west coast.
“With each dive, sharks are seen in groups of two or three,” said Mr. Gazzo, advocating the removal of the sharks.
But 2011 was a horror year for shark attacks.
In September 2011, champion French surfer Mathieu Schiller was killed in a frenzied shark attack that lasted less than 30 seconds after he was dragged from his surfboard on Bouncan Canot beach.
The 32-year-old was believed to have been attacked by a man-eating tiger shark that swam off afterwards.
Surfers searched for the his body afterwards but police said it was carried away in the waves.
"There were around 20 people in shallow water and about five surfers out deeper when it happened,’ a witness told Réunion’s local news website.
"We saw the shark’s nose emerge and then the man just vanished. It was very sudden, then the animal just swam off.
"Some of those nearby tried to reach him but his body was dragged away by the current."
In June 2011, local bodyboarder Eddy Auber, was attacked and killed by sharks at Ti Boucan.
Several bite marks were found on his body. His arm was severed.
Witnesses saw him raise his hand as the attack happened about 200m offshore.
They tried to intervene but were deterred by the sight of several fins.
Surfer Fabien Bujon was attacked but lived to tell the tale.
In August 2012, Bujon was at a surf spot off Saint-Leu on the west coast of Reunion Island when he was grabebd by a shark.
“I was sitting on my board. He came from the front like a pit bull," Bujon told French weekly La Nouvel Observateur, as reported by worldcrunch.
"He immediately caught my leg and started gnawing on it," Bujon recalled. "The scientists say he was just tasting, but he seemed to have decided he liked it.”
Last year over 300 locals picketed outside the mayor's office, causing Mayor Thierry Robert to initially OK an order to cull sharks in the area, before pressure from France quickly made him retract the order.
Reunion island, which is part of French territory, has long been a desirable getaway for tourists and pleasant home to some 800,000.
It was also a favorite destination for some 8000 surfers each year, especially along a 35km strip west of the island with the best sandy beaches and the finest hotels. And that's just where the sharks arrived.
The problem comes from the strong currents and the powerful waves -- something both surfers and sharks like is an agitated sea.
Around 1,700 Australians visited Reunion Island last year, according to the local tourism body.
Colin Bowman, from Flight Centre, said the island was a honeymoon and surfing destination but was more popular with Europeans because it was difficult to get there from Australia.
“You have to fly through Africa to get there from Australia,” he said.
“There used to be a direct flight with Air Austral but that flight no longer operates from Australia so you would have to fly via Johannesburg with South African Airways or via Mauritius with Air Mauritius.”
Last year, 78 shark attacks were reported around the world, of which eight were fatal.