For divers visiting the crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea near Aqaba, Jordan, diving down to “The Tank” is a rite of passage, one magnificently captured by Swedish professional diving photographer Alex Dawson.
The American-built M42 “Duster” anti-aircraft vehicle was used by the Jordanian army in the 1960s. It was subsequently sunk by the Jordan Royal Ecological Diving Society in 1999 as an attraction for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Dawson not only got a stunning shot of the original sunken tank; he also got a sneak peak at Jordan’s Underwater Military Museum, the first of its kind in the world. Helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and medical vehicles were all strategically sunk and now offer both habitat for marine life and incredible pictures for divers.
“The Tank” has the incredible feature of being close to Aqaba’s South Beach, some 20 meters (66 feet) off the shore and only 6 meters (20 feet) deep. The comparatively easy access, with a sunken C-130 Hercules transport plane attraction also nearby, has made the tank somewhat of a diving icon.
Alex Dawson explained, “I took a similar image 16 years ago on my first press trip assignment but during daytime, so my plan was to do it at night time and paint with underwater lights.”
Carefully planning the image in Sweden before flying out to Jordan, Dawson created a beautiful haunting tableau of the barnacle-encrusted tank. “Me and my dive buddy Fredrik asked the rest of the boat if we could have a five minute earlier start before the rest of the divers came down to the wreck,” Dawson said. This allowed Dawson to create a perfect shot.
The diving photographer managed the incredibly eerie portrait of the tank’s twin barrels perfectly lit up by lights. “I placed the lights behind the tank and attached my floater with additional lights so that it would give a perfect shadow on the bottom from the two gun barrels,” Dawson explained.
It only took Dawson and his diving partner Frederik five minutes to capture the shot the way they wanted. The tank is so clearly lit and intact that it almost seems on the verge of reanimating and crawling out from the sea bottom.
The tank photo was just one of the many former military vehicles that form part of Aqaba’s underwater museum, which Dawson managed to capture. He used a similar back-lighting concept while photographing “one of the two Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters that stands at a depth of 25m (75 feet),” as he wrote on Instagram. Dawson also captured an incredible picture of the museum’s tank exhibit, which has several vehicles in battle formation.
As reported by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the museum includes “8 objects [which] were settled at 15-20 meters and the other 11 can be found at 20-28 meters.” They add that “you can snorkel, take a tour in a glass bottom boat or scuba dive,” as Dawson did.
For those who do make the trek to Aqaba’s underwater museum, as Dawson’s stunning photos reveal, it’s worth your while to bring your underwater camera.