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‘Only an idiot free-dives with Great White sharks,’ growls Craig Ferreira’s father. But dad’s not stopping him . . .

SMILE NICELY: Craig Ferreira (in the wide-brimmed hat) with a Great White shark near Dyer Island, off Gansbaai

A DEATH-defying habit — of skin-diving with 5m Great White sharks — is turning a little-known South African diver into an international film sensation.

While many expected Craig Ferreira to end up as shark food, the Cape Town shark diver instead landed the star role in a lucrative Discovery Channel documentary screened to a massive US TV audience last month.

Now the TV channel wants to immortalise Ferreira’s bid to dive with all of the world’s dangerous sharks in a multimillion-dollar, 12-part series.

But Ferreira has a more serious foe than two-ton underwater predators with serrated teeth — his father, Theo Ferreira.

He said the risks of diving with dangerous sharks far outweighed the benefits.

“Only an idiot freedives with Great White sharks,” Ferreira snr said from Gansbaai, a small coastal town two hours from Cape Town and the centre of the country’s lucrative shark cage-diving industry.

“There is a very real potential danger of you being taken out, and the only thing that saves you is the fact that you are alien in their environment and that makes the shark a bit nervous.”

Heated disagreement between family members was a central feature of the film pilot, shot in Shark Alley off Dyer Island, South Africa’s notorious Great White breeding ground.

Craig this week played down the row with his dad and said he hoped the documentary would destroy the harmful stereotype of sharks as mindless killing machines.

To prove his point, the film crew plan to record him swimming with the world’s 12 most dangerous shark species, dubbed the Dirty Dozen.

“Contrary to popular belief, sharks are predictable. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do it [free dive] . . . We’ve learnt that they’re very stable animals with very stable behaviour. If you understand those parameters, you can take very good calculated risks,” said Craig. “But, at the same time, it’s like a gun. If you become complacent, it’s going to go off.”

Ferreira snr said: “The authorities are crazy to turn a blind eye to it.”

Theo made headlines himself in the ’70s and ’80s when he was hunting a 7m Great White in False Bay nicknamed The Submarine. He later became a prominent shark conservationist, but distanced himself from the industry after being charged with harassing a Great White in False Bay in 2004.

“My boat was confiscated for disturbing a white shark and here these guys are riding piggy-back on their backs. To me, that’s disturbing a shark.

“I wonder how authorities would react if people had to go in and play tug-of-war with rhinos and elephants?”

The full documentary series will take the Ferreira family to some of the world’s most spectacular diving sites.

But the testy family dynamics could prove to be more interesting than the scenic beauty, according to Mark Kaczmarczyk, a German-based filmmaker who came up with the film concept during a three-week shark outing with Craig in the Adriatic Sea.

“We see the conflict as a dramatic thread throughout the series.”

Craig said: “The family dynamic is a very big part of the story. Between myself, my wife and my father, we’ve already got three strong characters.

“Discovery Channel just loves the controversy.”