Officials said sharks attacked the inflatable catamaran and tore off large chunks of the vessel’s hull.

Three men on board a catamaran off the northeastern coast of Australia have been rescued after sharks tore off sections from the hull of their inflatable vessel, according to officials.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the three sailors – two Russian and one French citizen – were rescued early on Wednesday.

They were picked up by a Panama-flagged vehicle carrier – the Dugong Ace – while floating in the Coral Sea, some 835km (519 miles) southeast of Cairns in Australia.

Satellite photos and a video on the AMSA website showed a large part of the stern of the nine-metre (30-foot) yacht torn away.

“Both hulls of the vessel have been damaged following several shark attacks,” AMSA said in a statement.

The authority said the sailors, aged between 28 and 64, had planned to sail from the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu to Cairns, a distance of more than 2,000km (1,200 miles). They activated an emergency distress beacon in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The three sailors are due to arrive in Brisbane on Thursday, AMSA said.

“There’s many reasons why vessels are attacked by sharks. However, the motivations of these sharks are unclear,” said Joe Zeller, the acting manager of the AMSA Response Centre. The three sailors “were very happy to be rescued and they are all healthy and well and aboard the Dugong Ace,” he added.

The Coral Sea where the men were found is brimming with reef sharks.

According to the Australian government, it is home to more sharks “than almost any other survey site in the world”.

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