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Aqaba’s Underwater Treasures: Wrecks and Wonders

C130 Plane in Aqaba

Ask anyone about Jordan, and they’ll likely rave about Petra, that enigmatic city carved into colossal red cliffs. But if you catch a scuba diver’s ear, tales of exceptional wreck diving might bubble up: picture tanks, helicopters, and a colossal aircraft deliberately submerged beneath the waves. I had the chance to dive these very wrecks in June 2023, when partaking in Aqaba 1st Aqaba Underwater Photography Competition.

Situating itself in the heart of the Middle East, Jordan is predominantly landlocked, except for 27 km of coastline around Aqaba, the diving epicenter. Nestled between Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s Eilat, Aqaba boasts direct flight accessibility or can be reached via a four-hour land transfer, after landing in Amman.

Deep Blue Dive Center

Of the myriad dive operators, my buddy and I chose Deep Blue Dive Center, because of their commitment to underwater photography, eco-conscious practices, and comfortable boats. Their Jordanian hospitality was palpable, treating us to 5-star service and camaraderie as we embarked on the diving escapades. Diving logistics were a breeze. As we stayed down-town, mornings began with a mini-bus ride to Tala Bay marina, home to Deep Blue Dive Center. Most days we were aboard Deep Blue 2, a 23.9-meter motor yacht which had the amenities and comfort of a full blown liveaboard, even though we were using it just for daytrips!

Deep Blue Dive Boat

Deep Blue 2 is a 23.9 meters long, comfortable motor-yacht.

The Story Behind the Wrecks

Cedar Pride Wreck

The top of the Cedar Pride is 9 meters deep, making it possible to appreciate the wreck from safety-stop depth.

Aqaba has blossomed into a premier wreck diving destination, owed in large part to the Jordanian Royal Family’s affinity for scuba diving. It all began in 1985 when King Abdullah II orchestrated the sinking of the Cedar Pride ship, followed by the M42 Duster tank’s descent in 1999. The saga continued in 2019, with 20 more wrecks finding their way to the ocean.

Enter the Cedar Pride – a 74-meter-long vessel which became Aqaba’s inaugural wreck. Having aged 38 years in the Red Sea, it now harbors hard and soft corals, a kaleidoscope of marine life including clownfish, lionfish, and even giant frogfish. The 20-25 meters visibility provided an ideal canvas for our photographic endeavors. Every visit painted a different tableau, from the crow’s nest at 15 meters adorned with vibrant corals, to the stern’s crimson-covered handrails at 17 meters. For qualified divers, penetrating the wreck to visit cabins and the engine room is also possible.

C130 Plane in Aqaba

Fellow photographers Damir Zurub and Kathy Mih, working around the cockpit of the C-130.

Excitingly, Aqaba has two plane wrecks on offer. The Hercules C-130, a gigantic military troop carrier was sunk in 2017, only to be split into by a storm afterwards. The massive tail and cockpit are now separated but still worth a dive, complemented by a photo-friendly safety stop on nearby M42 iconic tank.

C130 Aqaba

The massive tail of the C-130 Hercules.

Inside Tristar Plane

The Tristar’s deepest cabin is also the longest one. A powerful Ikelite DS230 strobe, setup on a remote tripod, helps give a sense of depth to the photo.

For anyone who likes air travel, the Tristar is a must-do, a wreck I enjoyed photographing over and over. This wide-body airliner, similar in size to a Boeing 787, is easily penetrated, with rows of three-seats still in place and all instruments in the cockpit.

Tristar Plane

Underwater photographers and their models practicing around the Tristar wreck, in preparation for the competition.

The Underwater Military Museum might just be the ultimate diver playground, with 19 wrecks to explore over several dives.

Underwater Military Museum

Two tanks and an armoured ambulance, part of the Underwater Miliary Museum.

Cobra helicopters, armored carriers, jeeps, and cannons, poised in battle formation, while marine life is starting to colonize these artificial reefs. Above the tanks, an impressive concentration of garden eels call the sandy slope their home.

Underwater Military Museum

Anemonefish, in between the helicopter wrecks.

Wrecks-aside, Aqaba boasts interesting small marine life, and I will certainly bring a macro lens for my next visit. Coral dives are on offer too, and I fondly enjoyed the shallow yet lively Bernice Jetty, home to a tapestry of thriving soft corals.

Soft Corals at Berenice Jetty

My buddy, Matt Waters contemplates soft corals under Bernice Jetty.

Cedar Pride Aqaba

The Cedar Pride’s crows’ nest is teeming with life.

Sight-seeing and final words

Wadi Rum Sunset

Wadi Rum desert is a magnificent sight.

Petra is only a 2 hour drive away from Aqaba, making it an easy day-tour to finish a week of diving and I can’t recommend it enough. The Wadi Rum desert is close-by too and both places can be visited as a day trip from Aqaba. The Dead Sea is another great sight but easier to visit from Amman.

Final words

The wrecks of Jordan offer fun diving, interesting macro life and a great playground for underwater image makers. Aqaba itself is a lively city where it felt safe to walk after sunset, enjoying the local eateries and occasional roof-top bar. In summary, Aqaba offers a great combination of unique diving and must-do sites like Petra and Wadi Rum.

Aqaba's Underwater Treasures: Wrecks and Wonders 1

The author, thrilled to visit world-famous Petra.

Text and photos by Nicolas Remy, visit his Remy portfolio and online underwater photography courses.

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