Tourists were not warned about crocodile attacks, residents claim
The Sri Lankan authorities were last night struggling to contain the damaging fallout from the death of a British journalist killed in a crocodile attack.
Officials have ordered police to erect warning signs in the area where Paul McClean, 24, a reporter on the Financial Times, was attacked as he washed himself in the mouth of a river, near the beach where he was learning to surf.
Panama beach, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of the capital, Colombo, is famous for surfing and other beach sports.
James Lamont, the Financial Times’ managing editor, described McClean as “a talented, energetic and dedicated young journalist” who had “a great career ahead of him.”
Local residents claimed that visitors to the southern Sri Lankan beach resort where Mr McClean was killed were not warned of the possibility of crocodile attacks in the area.
The authorities fear the local tourist economy, which draws thousands every year to the area’s long sandy beaches, could be hit as a result of the tragedy.
Sub Inspector T. D. Gayana Sampath Ratnayake, said: “Following this incident the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in the area has instructed us to put warning boards in several languages.”
Mr McClean had arrived in the country from London for a holiday earlier this week, with a group of British and American friends, and had gone on a surfing lesson at the Safa Surf School when Thursday afternoon’s the tragedy happened.
He was last seen screaming for help and waving his hands in the air as the large reptile grabbed him.
Locals told the Telegraph that despite the rivers in the area being infested with crocodiles the authorities had not taken any measures to warn either the locals or visiting foreigners.
Wijeya Wijesinghe, a teacher who visited the scene in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, told The Telegraph: “A number of locals, specially fishermen, had seen crocodiles in the area. There were few incidents of crocodile attacks but there were casualties. However no local authority or the tourist industry had taken measures to warn the tourist about danger.”
In one of the first detailed accounts of the attack Mr Wijesinghe said: “A local fisherman who was fishing in the other side of the lagoon about 20 meters away from the place from the tragic incident took place had seen the crocodile getting into water. A few minutes later he saw the hands of victim who seemed to be struggling to save himself from the crocodile.”
Panama beach, about 190 miles southeast of the capital, Colombo, is famous for surfing and other beach sports.
Navy divers recovered Mr McClean’s body yesterday morning from the muddy lagoon bed near Elephant Rock beach where it had been buried by the crocodile.
A local magistrate is overseeing an investigation into the tragedy, with a post mortem due to be held today (Saturday).
An initial examination revealed horrific wounds to Mr McClean’s legs, from where he had been dragged into the water by the crocodile.
After travelling to southern Sri Lanka and spending time in the resort of Unawatuna, Mr McLean and his friends moved on to the East Beach Surf Resort in Arugambey where they arranged for surf lessons with an outside operator.
Yesterday colleagues at the FT spoke of him as a talented journalist with an engaging sense of humour and a sharp eye for a story.
James Lamont, the FT’s managing editor, described Mr McClean as “a talented, energetic and dedicated young journalist” who had “a great career ahead of him at the FT”.
Mr McClean established a reputation as a rising star during a sting at the paper’s Brussels bureau, before moving to its fastFT team, in London.
Katie Martin, head of fastFT, described him as “a warm, funny person and a talented young journalist with a curious mind . . . a joy to be around, truly, with an impish sense of humour”.
She wrote: “The desk to my left is empty. This is a sad time. My heart goes to the friends and family of the charming Paul McClean.”
Friends from Oxford University, where Mr McClean studied French, graduating with a First Class Honours degree in 2015, also paid tribute.
Rachel Savage, 26, who worked with him on The Cherwell student paper and is now the Economist’s West Africa correspondent, said: “From his first stories as a student news reporter it was clear that Paul had a rare talent. As well as being clever and competent, Paul was also hard working, funny and cheerful.”
Mr McClean described himself as a “longsuffering Evertonian” and the club yesterday paid its own tribute, stating: “Everyone at Everton is deeply saddened to hear of the untimely passing of Evertonian and FT reporter Paul McClean.”
George Curie, a childhood friend of Mr McClean, said: “Anyone that knew Paul will agree with me that he was one of the best of us. Smart, funny and kind, he stood out as an example of how we should live our lives.”
Experts said that while attacks by crocodiles on humans remain rare the threat is growing as the creatures come into increasing contact with humans as a result of threats to their native habitat from mudslides and floods.
Following the monsoon rains last May, Sri Lankan government officials issued warnings for people to look out for stray crocodiles in floodwaters.
Jigar Upadhyay, a researcher on human-crocodile interaction, based in Gujarat, India, said: “It’s very unusual for a crocodile to go after a human being. What could have happened is that he wandered into a nesting area by accident and the crocodile was protecting any hatchlings.
“Any human would obviously be terrified – resulting in an unknowingly more threatening gesture to the animal. Normally they would drag down a potential threat until it drowned.”
Mr McClean’s brother, Neil, 22, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 and has documented his fight against the disease in a light-hearted online blog.
Whilst in remission, he returned to his studies at Glasgow University but relapsed in 2016 and was waiting for a stem cell transplant after doctors said it was his best hope of a long-term recovery.