In front of the Omani exclave Musandam there is a sea area in which no one has dived before. There are whale sharks, manta rays and intact coral reefs – and the military that drives divers out of paradise.
Here towering cliffs fall vertically into the sea. There are hardly any people, only a few animals can be seen occasionally. Sometimes the Musandam peninsula belonging to Oman is also called the Norway of the Orient due to its fjord-like incisions, but this is not true. It is too hot, too lonely and too hostile for that.
Every drop of oil transported by tankers from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean has to squeeze through the narrow strait that is only 30 nautical miles wide. So the area is an eternal quarrel between Oman, Iran and the rest of the world.
The 19 guests on board the “Saman Explorer” do not want to quarrel, they want to explore. What attracted them is the prospect of diving into an area that no other diver has seen. “I now know almost every reef in Egypt,” says Sonja Tietz, a 53-year-old data protection consultant from Bavaria, “but this is new territory.”
A lot of food, a lot of fish
Already at the first descent, a wisdom known to divers is confirmed: The waters of Oman are not exactly known for excellent visibility, here in the north of the country it is no different. Sometimes the view stretches ten meters into the distance, sometimes 15. The cloudiness of the water is due to the high biomass in it – what annoys divers pleases the fish, which find plenty of food as a result. You can see that from them: The same species are around a third larger than in other subtropical seas.
You may not see far under water, but you see a lot. Huge batfish, colorful angelfish, countless nudibranchs. Under Musandam there is life everywhere. The hard corals shimmering in red, yellow and orange – of course – still look completely untouched. No coral desert, nowhere. Spectacular encounters? Does not exist yet. Maybe later. On one of the islands closer to the shipping lane.
The next dive site is a small island; little more than a few boulders sticking out of the water. The mask flutters on the face as you descend: there is almost always a current in this region – that’s how it is when a sea flows through a narrow funnel into another.
As a reward, part of the divers get to see one of the big yearning animals: a nine-meter-long whale shark that glides through the current with its mouth open, followed by a second shortly thereafter. Whale sharks are filter feeders, completely harmless to humans despite their mass. The trip was worth it just for the sighting of the dotted giants.
Tea time for the police officers
When you turn up, the next surprise follows: The guests of the “Saman Explorer” look into the barrel of a machine gun, mounted on the foredeck of a police boat. There are law enforcement officers on patrol who are supposed to curb smuggling between Oman and Iran, but are currently finding the liveaboard ship more interesting. Maybe because the crew immediately offers them hot tea and cool soft drinks. Maybe because European tourists are a nice change in everyday work.
The Omani police officers are as friendly as they are open-minded. You laugh, you tell jokes, you inquire about families. They will come by every day until the end of the trip. Sometimes for a drink, sometimes for a chat. Checking the valid papers only serves as an excuse, everyone can feel it, it doesn’t bother.
The destination of the trip is islands that lie directly on the international waters of the Strait of Hormuz. The approval of the Omani government extends up to this point. The “Saman Explorer” wants to spend two days on them, six to eight dives are to be completed. There will be only one.
With this, the view under water extends a good 20 meters, unusual for the region. The current pulls the divers along the reef slope in a slow drift. Leopard sharks appear, the outline of a manta ray is visible under the surface of the water against the sunlight. Everything blooms here, where moray eels and spiny lobsters have occupied almost every crevice. There is no trace of the low-oxygen “death zone” that researchers recently discovered in the Gulf of Oman.
Paradise remains militarily protected
The dive lasts an hour, and when the guests talk about it on board, the word paradise often comes up – this reef is so untouched, so beautiful, so rich in fish. But the enthusiasm does not last long – because then a speedboat appears, this time staffed by Omani military personnel instead of police officers.
This time, however, there is no tea drinking, the soldiers declare these islands to be a restricted area, any military action. Despite valid permits, no further discussion is possible, otherwise you are welcome to confiscate the ship and detain the captain. He is understandably in a hurry to drive back to the mainland.
The grief about it lasts only briefly – after all, every guest can comfort themselves by being the first to dive into a spot that no one will dive anytime soon. Because even the tour operator will continue the expeditions in front of Musandam, but avoid the proximity of these guarded islands. “Everything is bigger in Oman”, the dive guide had promised at the start of the tour, and he was right these days – and also regarding the adventure.