Missing diver's gas tank found near submarine wreck off UAE coast

A year on since Sultan Sabha went missing, his family have vowed to continue the search

Sultan Sabha was an experienced technical diver who had completed many similar dives. Courtesy Diaa Sabha
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Divers have recovered the discarded gas tank of a Jordanian man who disappeared while exploring a German submarine wreck off the coast of Fujairah.

Sultan Sabha, 40, vanished on April 15 last year at the site of a U-boat about 110 metres down on the seabed.

The tank was found by Simon Nadim, a deep sea diving instructor based in Fujairah, while searching for Mr Sabha.

The discovery has just come to light and a year on from the tragedy, Mr Sabha’s family have vowed to continue the search.

"I just want to know how he spent his last day – was he happy or angry or scared?" Diaa Sabha, Sultan's brother, told The National.

“Accidents may happen, we accept that, but I just want to know the last moments of my brother.”

Mr Sabha went missing at U-533 after becoming entangled in fishing lines that surround the submarine, during his ascent to the surface, and could not escape.

Mr Nadim, owner of the XR Hub Diving Centre in Fujairah, found Mr Sabha’s camera, that contained a video that captured the entire dive, under the submarine’s conning tower (turret) last May. The video was handed over to police.

Mr Nadim said the distressing footage shows how Mr Sabha first becomes trapped by fishing lines on the wreck’s stern but he does not initially realise it.

“He didn’t know he was caught as the fishing lines are hard to see,” said Mr Fadim, 40, who has viewed the video.

“For about four minutes you can see that he thought the current was not letting him move. But a few minutes later he stops and sees the line.”

Sultan Sabha went missing off of the coast of Fujairah last year. Courtesy: Diaa Sabha
Sultan Sabha went missing off of the coast of Fujairah last year. Courtesy: Diaa Sabha

He then tries to go back to the main line - which guides divers up and down - close to the submarine’s conning tower but gets too close to the wreck and he is tired.

“His camera is scrapping the surface as he moves and is grabbing more fishing lines. It is very serious and he is entangled heavily now,” said Mr Nadim.

By minute 16 of the dive, his sole diving partner comes and tries to help by cutting the camera. The camera falls onto the wreck, shows nothing more, while the friend then heads back up - possibly thinking he was OK. But Mr Sabha never made it.

Extensive searches were carried out at the site 46 kilometres off the coast by the UAE Coastguard but his body has never been recovered. It is not clear where the friend or boat captain are now. "We have been told the police case is closed," Diaa said.

Mr Sabha’s wife is still in the UAE, while his mother and four siblings are in Jordan. And Diaa has vowed to continue the search

FUJAIRAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 17 APRIL 2019. Deep sea diver Simon Nadim, for a story on diving to a Nazi-era wreck at his dive center in Fujairah. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: John Dennehy Section: National.
Deep sea diver Simon Nadim at his XR Hub Dive Centre in Fujairah. Mr Nadim has completed dozens of dives to the wreck. Antonie Robertson / The National

“Simon is helping me so much and I want to keep searching for him. He is my brother and even if we find a bone it will mean a lot. At least to have a grave,” Diaa said.

“When he used to tell me stories about his dives, I was sure that one day I would hear something like this. All the facts say he passed away but maybe we are looking for a miracle.”

The dive to the submarine is challenging. Divers must use complex equipment, take special gases and many use what is known as a rebreather – a diving apparatus that recycles exhaled oxygen. Diving is generally safe, Mr Sabha was highly experienced and had completed many similar dives. However, the team that day did not go through a registered diving centre nor did they have a back-up crew on board.

Mr Nadim, who found Sabha's gas tank in December, said he takes at least two reserve divers with extra tanks on such dives in case something goes wrong.

He is planning another search effort at the site and said everyone must learn hard lessons from the incident.

“It was an unfortunate chain of events,” he said. “It is very sad but this will save lives in the future.”