History of the Salem Express
Express was a hefty roll-on roll-off car ferry, with two huge
Her sheer size: Length = 110m; Width=18m is an awe-inspiring sight to behold, even now as she lies in relatively shallow waters.
Not much is known of this Egyptian ferry except that she was built in 1966 and that disaster struck her close to midnight, on 15th December 1991.
The Salem was packed with passengers returning from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, bound for the port of Safaga, when on that fateful night she struck one of the banks of coral that just break the surface south of Hyndman Reef (near Sha'b Shear), off Safaga in the Egyptian Red Sea. It was a stormy night and rescue teams failed to help. The collision gouged out a hole in the forward part of the hull, causing the stern door to burst open.
The ferry very quickly began to take on water and in only a matter of minutes she had sunk. There are claims that the number of passengers actually aboard the Salem when she sank was much, much higher than the official count of 690, with only 180 survivors. There may have been as many as 1600 people who perished in the tragedy, but many different counts have been provided
Lying on her starboard sideat the foot of the Hyndman Reef, the Salem Express lies in her deepest part at 30m with her port side only 10m from the surface. From the surface you can easily make out the port-side hull of the Salem and can begin to plan your dive(s). You will tend to dive this wreck two or three times on a visit and each opportunity should never be missed.
Our first dive on the Salem was down to the seabed, across the debris of corrugated iron sheets, which once provided shade from the sun on the deck, over the numerous unused lifeboats, and plethora of strewn rubbish.
main items I remember seeing were TV sets, radios, loudspeakers and
cassette tapes (from Jeddah).
Making your way to the stern to see the huge port-side propeller colonised by marine life, which is in contrast to the starboard-side propeller lying under the hull in the shadows. Heading towards the bow, over the port-side rail you will pass the well-preserved main deck and poop-deck. After reaching the first superstructures continue on and you will see the ship's two enormous funnels, each emblazoned with the notorious letter 'S' (for Salem) set within a laurel wreath.
Deep within the Car Deck
If you have a good dive guide you may get the opportunity to enter the car deck levels of the Salem.
Please, please remember that this is a grave as well as a wreck and must be treated with the utmost respect.
When our chance came to enter, just three of us, from the eight divers on the liveaboard, opted for it. Myself, I have no idea why I wanted to take this on; probably as so few divers had been in there before. Our dive guide led us down onto the port-side of the hull where the rescue divers had cut a large square hole from which they could retract the passengers trapped deep within the car-deck - this is the only accessible entry/exit into this area.
Descending down into the black
inside, our torches passed continuously over the deeply stacked luggage
left behind. There were some haunting sights - children's tricycles,
wheelbarrows, dolls, and literally thousands of suitcases. We gently
finned over this spectacle entering deeper and deeper toward the rear
doors of the car deck, eventually finding what looked like a small family
car and JCB hanging from the sides of the hull. Back towards the front of
the deck we found one other car before we returned to our entry point.
The only thing I can say about this dive were the feelings which swept over me during the whole dive. It was such a silent, cold and lifeless dive but the deep feelings were so calm and tranquil... it's hard to explain and if I were to say "see for yourself" I'd also say "please, please respect those many who lost their lives on the Salem" - as the old adage goes... "take nothing but memories and leave only bubbles!!".
Copyright © 2007 Chippenham Diving Club - BSAC1622