May 10

Red Sea Wrecks: MV Salem Express

By Thomas Gronfeldt

Thomas started diving during college and has since been diving over most of the world: Australia, Indonesia, Iceland, France, and many other places. He is a NAUI instructor and a commercial diver, and participates in environmental and archeological diving projects around the world.

One of the Red Sea’s most controversial wrecks leaves a big impression on divers

Salem Express

Resting at around 90 feet (25 meters) off Safaga, just south of Hurghada, the MV Salem Express is one of the most controversial wrecks in the Red Sea. Starting its career as a roll-on, roll-off ferry servicing Safaga and Jedda in Saudi Arabia, it sank after striking one of the infamous Hyndman Reefs on December 17, 1991. The ship went down only 20 minutes after striking the reef, taking numerous passengers with it.

History of the Salem Express
Since it was transporting passengers returning from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the ferry was filled to capacity, with estimates of people on board at around 650. Only 180 passengers were rescued after the wreck, but the total loss of lives is a point of dispute. The official number is 470, a figure that was reached by subtracting the number of survivors from the maximum number of passengers allowed on board. This figure has long been disputed, as it’s common for ferries in the area to sail over capacity during the pilgrimage season. Some reports have indicated that there may have been as many as 1,000 passengers onboard. These reports have never been confirmed, though. The high death toll is blamed largely on the fact that many numbers of both passenger and crew couldn’t swim, and that the ship sank so quickly, which did not give the crew enough time to launch the lifeboats.

Salem Express

Diving the Salem Express
Today, the wreck is often on the itinerary of the liveaboard boats in the Red Sea, but controversy over whether or not people should dive the site continues. Some passengers forgo dives here, due to its morbid past. The ship lies on its starboard side, with the large “S” on its funnel clearly visible. There are plenty of opportunities for penetrating the wreck, in the cargo hold, the bridge and the cafeteria. On the seabed around the wreck are a number of artifacts, including the lifeboats, a fireman’s breathing apparatus and numerous suitcases.

A typical dive on the wreck begins with divers following a shotline, which is typically tied off at the funnel. From there, divers can head to the stern, follow the seabed to the other end of the ship, take in the debris field and finally make their way inside the cargo hold. From there, divers can make their way up to the outside through one of the holes struck by the reef and follow the side of the ship. The outside portside gangway is particularly interesting, as divers can pull-and-glide along the entire length of the ship, ducking into a number of areas in the superstructure, such as the cafeteria.

With the top of the wreck at only 30 feet (10 meters) and with relatively shallow maximum of 90 feet (25 meters), divers can expect a long dive, with a most of it spent in the shallow area. Often, maximum dive time is dictated by the liveaboard, rather than nitrogen load or tank capacity.

Safety stops can be completed on the shotline, or hovering nearby, as currents are usually very low and infrequent in the area. Divers can take in the entire wreck from here before surfacing.

Salem Express

The controversy surrounding the Salem Express will probably remain. There have been discussions as to whether the authorities should close the site, but so far, this has not happened. No human remains are visible around the wreck, so many divers argue that as long as they respect the site and do not remove or disturb items found in or around it, there is nothing disrespectful about diving the site. Ultimately, it is up to the individual diver to decide for him or herself whether or not they are comfortable diving the Salem Express.

Stats:

  • 90 feet (25 meters)
  • Depth, minimum: 30 feet (10 meters)
  • Location: Near Safaga, south of Hurghada
  • Approach: Boat, typically by way of liveaboard, though day boats also dive the site
  • Certification: OWD or similar, AOWD or similar preferred
  • Typical visibility: 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 meters)
  • Currents: Usually very mild

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Latest entries
Jul 29

My Favorite Dive: Nassau, Bahamas

Underwater backdrop with white sand and rocks

By C. David Conner The shock of what I was about to do hit when I noticed a dozen Caribbean reef sharks swimming slow circles around the boat, dorsal fins... Read More

Jul 28

My Favorite Dive: Bare Island, Sydney, Australia

Bare Island, Australia

by Dr. Klaus M. Stiefel Mention Australian diving destinations and most people will first think about the Great Barrier Reef in tropical Queensland. But don’t overlook the Sydney area, which... Read More

Jul 27

Sharks and the Miracle of Virgin Birth

Leopardenhai Stegostoma fasciatum Zebra Shark

Sharks have inhabited the world’s oceans for over 400 million years, and in that time they’ve developed some amazing evolutionary characteristics. From snouts studded with complex electro-receptors to skin made... Read More

Jul 26

Learning To Coexist With Sharks

Young woman swimming with skarks i

Since Western Australia announced its shark cull at the end of last year, the question of whether humans and sharks can ever really coexist has been thrust into the spotlight.... Read More

Jul 25

Record-Breaking Marine Animals

seahorse on spunge

The world’s oceans are filled with incredible creatures, each of which has unique, amazing characteristics. Their abilities establish some of these creatures as record-breakers; here are a few of the... Read More

Jul 24

Planning Diving Vacations Made Easy: Book Now!

divebooker we invite you to join

We invite you to check out Divebooker.com – a brand new way to plan and book your diving online! All you need to plan your diving can now be found... Read More

Jul 24

The Mindful Diver: Part III

Relaxing on the beach

In this 3-part series, we’ll delve into scuba diving’s relationship with mindfulness, and how to use the practice to become a better diver. In the previous installment of this 3-part... Read More

Jul 23

Diving the Conestoga River

Horse Farm in Lancaster PA with brook in foreground and blue sky

The hills of Lancaster, Pennsylvania hold untold treasures for divers By Terry Papavasilis Among the rolling hills and lush green countryside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania lies a secret, hidden in the... Read More

Jul 22

Please Don’t Feed The Fish: How To Overcome Seasickness

Woman getting seasick on boat

By Juanita Pienaar As a diver, you’ll generally spend more time on boats than you will exploring the underwater world. Feeding the fish, mal de mer, seasickness — call it... Read More

Jul 21

Just How Smart Is The Smart Console?

smart console

  How many times have you tried and failed to get your buddy’s attention underwater? Most of the time it’s just to point out something of interest that they missed,... Read More