Diving the Red Sea ~ Part One

December 29, 2022

Before my trip to Egypt and the Red Sea, I had dived with bull sharks in Fiji, along the reefs of Central America and Grand Cayman, as well as swam with humpback whales in Tonga, but was still a new diver, PADI OW certification. Most of my travel is solo, as was this trip, first to Giza and the Great Pyramids, then to Luxor, and finally to Sharm El-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula for a week of diving, or at least that was the plan. 

I took to diving fairly easily, handled the ‘mask removal and replacement’ at 60 feet underwater without panic off the coast of Grand Cayman, and completed the 30-something other skills to pass the various levels of testing. One year ago I traveled to Roatan, Honduras with a local dive group; solos choose a dive buddy but generally stay together as a group, more or less. We did drift dives, dived to 80+ feet, I used my camera on every dive, had a great week, and that’s the backstory basically to this two-part blog post. The first is about the ‘No Cameras Please!’ saga that took place at Camel Dive Center that week. Just about the worst nightmare a wildlife photographer can have at the start of a dive week (aside from actually dying underwater). Note: I travel the world for wildlife (all 7), so cameras are pretty important to me.

After a challenging week in Giza and Luxor, I arrived at Camel Dive Center in Sharm El-Sheikh, checked in, got settled and headed to the dive desk to sign in and fill out the ‘Promise I Won’t Sue You’ forms. I met the gal who was to be my guide (that’s in blog part two), and we chatted, and I mentioned the photography part. At that point Simone, the manager, walked in from the other office having heard the word ‘photographer’. “What kind of camera do you have?” A Canon regular camera in a housing for underwater. “Ooohhh, they are not allowing cameras in the water now!!!” He whips out his cellphone to show me a text that states no cameras, etc. He asks for me to bring my camera down to the office so they can look at it.

Stunned at this latest revelation, I immediately think of the many photographers that flock to this world-class diving area, and them being told, yeah, sorry, no cameras. My brain was a flurry of questions: is he making this up? why does he make it sound like it’s a new thing? don’t you have many many divers come here with their gear? what do you tell them, and why isn’t it posted on your website? Come dive with us but leave your cameras at home? Crazy thing was… He actually HAD no answers. This is almost 3 months ago, and I still can’t get over that.

(January 3, 2022 - UPDATE: One of the Girls that Scuba on fb just gave me the lowdown on the Mysterious Camera Ban. Long story short, it had to do with the BBC, a camera crew looking for dirt (?), and a ban that lasted ONE DAY. Sad week, and the uninformed and detached management at Camel Dive Club is to blame for not being on top of things and instead letting me believe my gear would be confiscated should I take it with me in the afternoon and try to take it onboard the boat the following morning.)

Circular Batfish - Red Sea

Back to original text: This is what happened: An international conference was scheduled for one month later, in November in Sharm. An edict had been handed down by Egypt’s rulers to be in effect just prior to and during the conference for no cameras to be used in the area for the sake of security. I’m guessing this would be high-end telephoto lenses and cameras, on land, in the area of the conference buildings and airports? Not sure how a short lens inside a camera housing under water would be subject to this ruling, BUT the edict filtered down and landed in the realm of scuba divers, or in the very least, on Manager Simone’s cellphone. (But what was to account for the many regular cameras I saw walking around Sharm town and right outside the dive center? Truly baffling.)

After a back and forth convo in the office, long story short, Simone suggests smuggling my camera bag onto the boat that evening in a crate underneath a pile of wetsuits! 

Titan Triggerfish Couple

(Before reading further, fast forward to when I returned home, I contacted a dozen dive centers in Sharm El-Sheikh, inquiring about underwater cameras (DSLR in housing) and needing some sort of permit. Every single center came back with ‘No problem, no permit needed diving with any camera you choose’.)

Giant Moray Eel

The following morning we drive to the marina and board the boat and I’m relieved to find my CineBag with Canon 5D MK3 in Ikelite housing inside. I did two dives that day, and as we made our way back to the marina I tried to get an answer from any of the guides onboard whether or not I should leave my $9,500 camera gear onboard, and what the prospect was of getting it back onboard the following day if I took it with me that afternoon. Would we be on the same boat? Are the ambiguous restrictions still in place? No one knew, so I left my gear on the boat. 

Emperor Angelfish

Before boarding the boat every day there is a checkpoint to go through and open your bag, looking for normally banned items like guns and cleavers. I was told they might confiscate my camera should I take it back to the hotel in the afternoon and bring it back to the boat in the morning. Apparently directives such as this morph and take on a life of their own as they trickle down the chain of command, becoming either capricious or idle, depending on the gatekeeper’s mood du jour. 

Bottom line is that I dived 3 days, not 5 (more on that later), and left my gear on the boat for 4 days, not being able to change out the memory card or the battery, or clean the housing. I just rinsed it with the hose onboard the boat. 

Ps. There were others on the boat with cameras of different brands and setups, one of whom I asked if they had a problem bringing their gear onboard and if it was mentioned to be a problem, i.e. restricted. She looked at me, shrugged, shook her head, had no idea what I was talking about and just said “no”. Same dive center, same boat. The language barrier prevented us from having any further conversation about it. 

The rest of the story has to do with whether or not I should have hired a private guide to begin with. Stay tuned.

Clown fish with baby fish on anemone

Circular Batfish Couple

Little Orange Fish Along the Southern Coast of the Sinai Peninsula

Archive
January February March April (1) May (1) June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February (1) March (1) April (1) May (2) June July August (1) September October November December (1)
January February March April (1) May (1) June (1) July (1) August September (1) October November December (1)
January (1) February March April May June July August September October November December