The Salem Express was a passenger ship that sank with great loss of life in the Red Sea shortly after midnight on December 17, 1991.
It was built in 1963 as a roll on, roll off car & passenger ferry and named the “Fred Scanaroni” but suffered a serious fire before
it eventually went into service in 1966. Before becoming the Salem Express, it had a chequered history, colliding with a dockside quay, another fire and a change of owners. In 1988 it was sold to an Egyptian company and was renamed after the company owner – Hussein Salem.
115 metres long and 18 metres wide, it had two engines and two propellers and could carry around 1200 passengers plus crew.
It often operated between the ports of Safaga (Egypt) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). It was when returning carrying passengers who had attended the Haj, that it sank after colliding with Hyndman Reef.
Whilst the position of the reef was well known and not in the normal shipping lane
for ships approaching the port, the captain was very experienced and had a dispensation to take the short route (red) into the port which missed the reef. There was bad weather on the night of the collision and the ship followed the black route onto the reef. The official route into port was the Green route which took longer.
The impact with the Hyndman Reef both holed the bows and also caused the bow door to be forced open. She very quickly took on water and sank, on her starboard side within minutes.
Loss of life was considerable, with the official figure being quoted as 470 with 180 survivors although local belief is that the death toll was around 1600 with only around 850 bodies being recovered. Following the collision, the captain locked himself in his cabin and went down with the ship.
Although many bodies were recovered after the sinking, eventually a halt was called due to the danger involved and the wreck was sealed with plates welded across many of the openings. In the past few years, the stern loading doorway has come off (either
Stern with door in place
removed deliberately to assist dive penetration or pulled off by dive boats mooring to it and therefore some penetration is now possible.
In general, divers are encouraged to treat the wreck as a grave and to dive with respect for the large number of bodies believed to be inside. It is about 90 minutes sailing time for dive boats from the port and hence is popular with many day boats. The dive is not particularly challenging provided one does not go inside, in that the sea bed is at around 30m with the top of the ship at around 18 metres. Because the normal route is to dive shallow along the port side, go around the bows and descend to the starboard side on the sea bed, decompression limits need to be watched carefully.
This site has a reasonably good description of a deep penetration dive (not to be encouraged) and this site has an article which puts both points of view and also has links to videos of diving the wreck.
Our dive plan was similar to that described above. We arrived on site after a smoothish five hour crossing from Little Brother and moored in the general area in a major thunderstorm. Being close by, we were able to dive the wreck before any of the day boats arrived.
In the main in the photos which follow, the orientation of the photograph reflects the way you actually see it when you are diving with the seabed beneath you.
The plan was to descend down our mooring
views as you descend
line onto the port side of the wreck
shipping line badge
companion way looking to the stern
follow the companion way past the bridge
me looking into the bridge
(the photo has a lot of back scatter)
a view of inside the bridge
past the anchor
to the bows to look at the damage
and the slightly open bow door,
then descend to the sea bed
the radome cover
the crows nest
and unused lifeboats
to the stern, then in through the now open rear loading ramp
view from the inside looking
backwards – the ship’s deck is
the right hand vertical
in this picture
and immediately out through a side doorway
the doorway from the outside
without going into the body of the wreck. Then look at the propellers
my dive buddy resting
and the rudder
noticing the coral growth
Emperor Angel Fish
amongst the coral
before returning to the mooring rope to
view looking down (portholes
for a safety stop and breakfast.