Wreck Diving
Wrecks of the Red Sea

The Red Sea has been an important international waterway since time immemorial. The first record of a trading expedition in the Red Sea dates back to year 1493 BC, when Queen Hatchepsut of Egypt sent a fleet of five vessels from El Quseir, on the Red Sea mainland coast, to the Land of Punt, near present-day Somalia.

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SALEM EXPRESS

The Loss of the Salem Express: Captain Hassan Moro was a vastly experienced ship’s master and had command of the Salem Express. Generally considered to be the best, he knew the local waters as well as any. On returning to Safaga, he would always take an unauthorised shortcut between the mainland and the Hyndman Reefs which saved two hours. None of his fellow ships’ captains would use this route.

On 15 December 1991 the Salem Express departed Jeddah for Egypt. During the journey, the weather deteriorated and by nightfall the winds were gale force. Despite the conditions Moro still took that shortcut. Close to midnight, the Salem Express struck a reef in the Hyndman group. This jolted the Visor open allowing water to race into the car deck. There was no time for an orderly evacuation and within 20 minutes the Salem Express sank - coming to rest in 32m of water on her starboard side.

The official death toll was 470. In a tragedy which happened so quickly that no lifeboats were launched, it is remarkable that 180 people survived. Captain Moro went down with his ship.


Diving the Salem Express: Whilst divers are allowed to visit this wreck, they are “not” allowed to enter the vessel at all. This ship is completely intact and lies squarely on her starboard side. The visor which covers the bows is known to move open and closed. Behind this is a short foredeck with windlasses for two large anchors which are still fully retracted. The bridge deck has many rows of square windows. Above the Bridge is a short mast and behind this a sun deck with lifeboat davits on both sides. None of the davits are swung out and all lifeboats on the upper (port) side are absent. The port side is 10-12m deep for most of the length of the ship where there is a long companionway with many doors. Amidships are twin funnels below which are found a small number of lifeboats on the seabed. Above the after deck is a light framework over which sheets of corrugated plastic were fixed to provide shelter from the sun. Those sheets now litter the seabed. At the stern are two huge propellers and a single rudder.


Postscript (1): In the aftermath of the loss of the Salem Express, the short-cut route favoured by Hassan Moro became illegal for all big ships.

Ned Middleton is an award-winning, best selling author. For more information about this and other shipwrecks found within the Egyptian sector of the Red Sea, his book “Shipwrecks from the Egyptian Red Sea” (ISBN 1898162719 and 1905492162) is readily available. This book was declared “Underwater Publication of the Year” for 2007.

Location

Safaga, Hyndman Reef

Depth

10m to 30m

Constructed

1966

Launched

1966

Type

Passenger & Vehicle Ferry

Displacement

4771

Dimensions

Machinery

Four 8 cylinder diesel engines

Owners

Samatour Shipping Company, Alexandria, Egypt

Cargo

650 Persons - 578 passengers and 72 crew