Place Category: Others DiveSite
The ‘Salem Express’ was launched in France in 1966 under the name ‘Fred Scamaroni’ and was a roll-on, roll-off ferry for vehicles and passengers in the Mediterranean. She was 100m long and 18m wide. In 1988 she was sold to the Samatour Shipping Company and started running trips between Safaga and Jeddah under the name ‘Salem Express’.
On the 15th of December 1991 she was returning from Jeddah with hundreds of pilgrims who had just been to Mecca. A storm was blowing gale force and people on the outer decks were getting drenched, so the captain decided to stay close to the shore to shave time off the journey, instead of taking the longer route along the outer reefs. Unfortunately the captain misjudged their position, and just after midnight the ship struck an outer pinnacle of Hyndman Reef. The result was disastrous. Not only was water coming in from a hole in the starboard side, but the impact also caused the bow loading door to open, letting in thousands of gallons of water. Almost immediately the ferry started to list over to the starboard side, making it impossible for the crew to deploy any of the life boats. The ‘Salem Express’ sank within 20 min of hitting the reef. Many people died trapped inside the wreck. Because of the severity of the storm and the fact that the tragedy occurred more than an hour from the port in the dead of the night, rescue boats arrived much too late to be of help and many of the 180 survivors had to swim to shore unaided. According to official numbers, 470 people died that night, but there always have been rumours that the ship was overloaded and that the death toll was closer to 1200. The Egyptian navy and local guides recovered most of the bodies from the wreck, but some areas were not accessible and were sealed off.
The Wreck Today
The wreck lies on its starboard side at a depth of 30m. The portside is only 12m below the surface. On the bow, you can clearly see the place where the ship hit the reef and the bow loading door is still partially open. On the bridge, most of the windows are broken and it is possible to swim through there and see the controls. Amidships there are twin funnels connected by a strengthening brace. On both sides of the funnel is a capital letter ‘S’, with a wreath of laurels. Two of the lifeboats are lying on the bottom next to the wreck. Just past the lifeboats it is possible to enter the cafeteria where tables are still fixed to the floor and metal chairs are lying in a jumble on the starboard side. Towards the stern, there are a lot of blue corrugated plastic sheets on the bottom. This was used to provide shelter on some of the outer decks. There are still also seats on the promenade decks. From here you can swim past the back loading door (which tends to bang when there is surge) to the two huge propellers and single rudder. On top of the wreck it is possible to look in through the glassless square windows and see what the first class cabins looked like.
Because the ship became the grave for many people, we ask divers to behave respectfully whilst diving this wreck, and to refrain from serious wreck penetration.