DO NOT PUBLISH: Australian endurance swimmer scraps Cuba-to-Florida bid

HAVANA (AFP) - Australian endurance star Chloe McCardel abruptly scrapped her bid to swim non-stop from Cuba to the US state of Florida after a "debilitating" jellyfish sting, her team said Wednesday.

"McCardel's attempt to be the first person to complete a non-stop swim from Cuba to the US without a shark cage has ended prematurely after 11 hours due to a severe debilitating jelly fish sting," spokesman Tim Stackpool told AFP by email.

"Chloe is now on one of the support vessels heading to Key West (Florida).

She will spend the next 24 hours recuperating before deciding on her plans going forward," he added.

The sting made it "impossible to continue," her team added on Facebook.

It was devastating news for her fans and supporters, just hours after the 29-year-old, attempting the feat without flippers or a wetsuit, plunged into the sea at Havana's Marina Hemingway at 10:00 am (1400 GMT) at the start of a 170-kilometer (105-mile) swim.

She had said she hoped to complete the swim across the Florida Straits in around 60 hours.

As the swimmer pressed on into the journey likely to force her to brave strong currents, jellyfish and sharks, her team had posted on her Facebook page that "Chloe is moving steadily along" at an average 2.25 miles per hour (3.7 kph).

In a later posting, the team said McCardel was 12 miles off the coast of Havana.

A few hours later, the bad news emerged.

McCardel, who was awarded the Channel Swimming Association's Sotiraki Cup in both 2011 and 2012, had hoped to set a world record and draw attention to the decades-long political divide between the United States and communist Cuba.

"I would like to encourage great relations between Cuba and the US and would like to encourage many tourists from around the world to come and visit this beautiful country," McCardel said ahead of the swim.

She was also raising money for cancer charities, after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when the swimmer was 14.

McCardel had been seeking a new record in unassisted nonstop distance swimming, out to break the record set by fellow Australian Penny Palfrey, who failed in an attempt last year to swim across the same straits.

Many swimmers have tried but failed at making the hazardous crossing. The most recent was American Diana Nyad, 63, who abandoned her bid earlier this year, plagued by storms, hypothermia and jellyfish.

Fellow Aussie Susan Maroney is the first and only person to have swum across the straits. She did so in 1997, at age 22, but used a shark cage for the mammoth effort.