Pearl Diving in Kuwait

Natural Persian Gulf Pearls (photo by Kari)

Natural Persian Gulf Pearls (photo by Kari)

Pearl Diving in Kuwait


The 22-year-old festival is an attempt to keep alive the traditions of pearl diving, an industry once central to the Gulf’s economy in the 19th Century. For one month before setting sail, the young men learned how to sail, dive, prepare the boats and sing songs as Kuwaitis did in the past. The fleet of 15 dhows and two support vessels began its voyage on July 15.

The rewards for the divers have been sparse. Mr Ashkanani estimates his divers have gathered as little as a quarter of the pearls as they had by this time last year. He said divers who plunder the oyster beds using diving equipment throughout the year – which is illegal – are the cause of the poor catch. “The government is trying to stop them, but they can’t do anything.”

Last year’s divers collected about 600 pearls, which were gifted to the emir and then handed back to the club, but the 130,000 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh1.65 million) cost of the trip does not need to be covered by the catch. The money is provided by sponsors, donations from sports clubs and a collection by the members of the Emiri Diwan.

The manager, Mr Qabandi, believes the event is growing in popularity. Last year, the fleet sailed to Bahrain for the first time and next year, they will take a trip to Qatar, which is planning to launch its own boats too, he said.

“We normally launch 10 to 12 boats, but the special thing about this year is that we had 15 for the first time. It’s growing in popularity,” he said.

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