A scuttled naval ship has turned into a perfect artificial reef just outside the city of Muscat. Packed with giant honeycomb moray eels and enormous schools of colourful fish, it is only one of many scuba highlights in the Sultanate of Oman. When you swim past the stern, the force is strong; Jedi master Yoda is watching over you!
“I need air condition!”
It is mid-May and the air temperature is close to 40 Celsius in the shade. There is not a breath of wind in the harbour of Jebel Sifah Resort and it feels like a sauna. Even dive guide Sebastian from Extra Divers is sweating. It´s time for short and efficient commands; “Everybody ready?”, “Let´s go!”, “I need air condition!”. A few minutes later, the air condition is at full speed and the excellent dive boat is cutting through the waves of the Gulf of Oman. The course is set towards north-west and the 84 meter long wreck of Al Munassir.
Abundance of marine life and unexplored dive sites
The once closed country is now a rising tourist destination. For scuba divers there are plenty of unexplored territory. The 3165 km long and rugged Omani coastline stretches from the United Arab Emirates in the north to Yemen in the south. Nutrient rich currents provide a vast abundance of marine life. Some state that as many as 1500 different fish species can be found in the Omani waters.
Hot and chilly
The sea temperature ranges from steamy 300C during the summer peak in July in the North, to chilly 130C in the south during upwelling of cold deep waters. With excellent temperature, wrecks and marine life, you may ask; why is scuba diving in Oman not as popular as the Red Sea or the Maldives? The only reason for this is the unpredictable visibility.
From crystal clear to murky
The average visibility is 10-15 meters. Elements like season, wind direction, currents and thermoclines all play a role in the visibility which can be crystal clear or murky. The dive sites of the Daymaniyat Islands are located further out in the Gulf of Oman and are accessible on longer daytrips with a fast boat. The visibility out here is generally better than along the coast.
The 3000-ton naval ship Al Munassir was scuttled by the Sultans navy in 2003. The purpose was to make an artificial reef to attract both marine life and scuba divers from all over the world. She now rests upright in the sand with a maximum depth of 30 meters at the stern.
After a short briefing from Sebastian, we are ready to explore the wreck and plunge into the water. The mooring line is attached to the bridge and the superstructure is clearly visible from the surface. We carefully approach the port side machine gun post which is surrounded by schooling fish. They only bother to move when we are close enough to touch them.
While continuing towards the stern along the port side, we end up herding a school of big eye snappers. Fish of all kind is darting in and out of all openings of the wreck. A gigantic honeycomb moray suddenly comes gasping out of a door opening and scares the shit out of the photographer. The heartbeat is slowly returned to normal as we continue all the way to the stern.
The force is strong
Honeycomb morays hide patiently in the shadows along the anchor winches, waiting for their next meal. The stern is a magical place and we didn´t fully understand why until we looked at the pictures after the dive. From a distance, the stern looks like the head of the Jedi master Yoda from Star Wars, with a divers mask! No wonder why the fish has embraced the wreck as their new home. A more suitable guardian is hard to find.
The Al Munassir is not the only wreck in the area. A small fishing boat turned out to host our trips most epic scene. Two honeycomb morays where sharing a hollow sponge covered mast. While photographing and filming, dive guide Sebastian waited patiently to show us the tiny seahorse 10 meters away. I guess he did not understand the fuzz about the morays. After all, he sees plenty of them on every dive.
Apart from the morays and schooling fish, there is a big chance of seeing turtles. A big green turtle was encountered and he did not care about two underwater photographers shining their strong lights at him. A small sebae anemonefish however managed to chase him away from their territory.
Extra Divers Sifah
Extra Divers has established five dive centres along the Omani coast. 40 km south of Muscat, we find the resort town Jebel Sifah. The dive centre is embedded in the Sifawy Boutique Hotel.
The well-equipped diving centre is operated by Sebastian and Mara. Daily dive trips are performed with the fast and practical diving boats. Two dives are performed on the first trip. Biscuits and water is served between the dives, and then there is a possibility for doing an afternoon trip as well. 12 liter aluminium tanks with DIN connection is the standard, but 15 liter bottles are available. Nitrox is available from a membrane compressor system.
It can get very hot in Oman during the summer, and Extra Divers actually closes during the most extreme heat in June and July. Temperatures can be close to 50 Celsius. Try to visit during winter and spring, and make sure to drink plenty of water.
Enjoy the resort life on the beach and restaurants, but try to explore some of Oman highlights on land while you are there. Daytrips are arranged to the dessert, deep canyons and the city of Muscat, and is highly recommended.
If you want to visit, Dykkebazaar will be happy to make you an itinerary.
Check out our second trip report from Oman; Scuba diving off the beaten track – Oman part II