Salem Express

On December 15th 1991 one of the greatest maritime disasters of recent times occurred a few miles from the Port of Safaga on Hyndman Reef. The 100m long passenger ferry, SALEM EXPRESS was returning with her decks crowded with pilgrims from Mecca. Official numbers quote 690 passengers but there are reports that as many as 1600 people were on board.

The ship struck the reef, ripping a great hole in the forward section of the hull. The sudden in rush of water caused the stern doors to burst open allowing more water to enter the already stricken ship. Within 10 minutes she rolled over onto her starboard side and sank in 30 mtrs of water. Only 180 survived

Built in1964 at La Seyne in France the vessel had sailed under the names of FRED SCAMARONI, NUITS ST. GEORGES, LORD SINAI and AL TARA .She was registered to the SAMATOUR LINE at the time of her sinking.

I first visited the wreck shortly after the sinking; the images of personal belongings; open suitcases, radio/ cassette players and indeed the un- used lifeboats were a poignant reminder of this tragedy. I never returned, never included the wreck in my itinerary, until July of this year (2001), almost 10 years after the sinking.

The wreck lies on her starboard side at the base of the reef, with the deepest part in 30 mtrs, her port side in only 10 mtrs. Both props can be seen, the deeper being covered in a carpet of soft corals, a stark contrast to the port propeller. She is virtually intact and even her lifeboats still sit upright on the seabed. There are two large funnels embossed with the letter S and Laurel leaves on both sides.

The bow door is a ghostly sight fully open, but with the ramp still in place, preventing any access at this point. The hinged bow continues to move slowly opening and closing.The promenade decks still bear seats; facing towards the surface and the seabed, another reminder that this was a passenger vessel. The bridge is easily accessible and still has her instrument panels in place; It would seem that the trophy hunters have left her alone; for now.

Marine life on the wreck is very sparse, although reef fishes such as lionfish, surgeons and masked butterfly fish can be seen, adding just a hint of colour to an otherwise depressing wreck.

Many of the guests on this visit had mixed feeling about diving this wreck; some simply would not dive her, others left their cameras behind, non would penetrate the wreck. After the dive there was a very solemn mood on the dive deck, not the usual après dive banter one would expect

There are various view points as to whether this wreck should be dived at all; It is a part of maritime history, and can be dived with no more disrespect than walking through a graveyard; The Egyptian authorities have not prevented safari boats visiting the wreck; it has been left to individual skippers to make the final decision.






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