SAFAGA Safaga Dive Sites

Wreck “Salem Express”

GPS – Position 26° 38.38′ N 34° 03.67′ E

  • The Salem Express was a 4,471 GRT Roll On/Roll Off (RO/RO) Passenger ferry originally named the Fred Scamaroni built at Forges & Ateliers et Chantiers de Mediterranee (Yard No. 1367), La Seyne, France, for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, Marseille, France.

  • wed to Port-de-Bouc on 30 November 1964 for completion. However, a fire broke out on board the ship on 26 June which caused extensive damage to the ship, resulting in a 10-month delay in the ship going in to active service until April 1966.
  • The Fred Scamaroni was 114.99 meters in length, 17.84 meters in beam, with a draught of 4.92 meters.
  • The ship had a passenger carrying capacity of 1200 persons and 142 vehicles. There were also 428 cabins for passenger accommodation.
  • On 17 May 1966 the ship was sailing on the Marseille, France-Ajaccio (a commune of Corsica) route, colliding with the quay wall at Ajaccio on 20 January 1967 (minor damage to both ship and quay).
  • As the Salem Express, she sailed on the Jeddah-Suez route from 1988 until the time of her loss on 15 December 1991.The Loss of the Salem Express:
  • On 15 December 1991, the Salem Express departed Jeddah bound Onboard, the majority of passengers were pilgrims returning from Mecca. Many bringing gifts and clothes for relatives at home in Egypt. The number of passengers onboard varies, with some reports stating 578 passengers and 71 crew, while other reports claim that as many as 1600 people were onboard the ship.
  • The ship, under the command of Captain Hassan Moro, made the 450-mile passage from Jeddah to the approaches to Safaga without any problems. Towards the end of the journey however, the weather started to pick up, with high winds and heavy seas buffeting the ship. Captain Moro, a well-respected seaman and the ship’s captain since 1988, knew the waters off Safaga as well as anyone, and better than most.
  • As the ship was steaming towards the Port of Safaga using the southerly route around Hyndman Reef, not realizing that the ship was a little over a kilometer east of her intended route. This put the ship on a collision course with the reef and, just before midnight, the ship struck the southernmost section of the reef, tearing a gaping hole in the forward starboard bow. Additionally, the ship’s bow door was forced open by the collision, allowing an immediate influx of seawater to the car deck. Within minutes the ship had a severe starboard list on her as panic broke out among the passengers. Within 20 minutes of striking the reef the ship sank in 30 meters of water, taking many passengers who were trapped below decks with her. For those passengers that did manage to get off of the ship before she sank, they had to fight to stay afloat in the stormy seas. The official number of dead was placed at 470, including the Captain, with 180 survivors……..Lloyd’s Casualty Reports stated the following:
  • “The Salem Express sank after grounding in the Red Sea on 15 December 1991. It was a 4770 GRT Egyptian Ro-Ro passenger ferry, built-in 1966, originally certified for 1384 passengers. It was sailing from Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) to Safaga (Egypt) with 578 passengers and 71 crew. While approaching Safaga at midnight in rough weather, the Master took a short-cut which was not authorised for night passage. The ferry struck a reef and sank within 20 minutes. There were 180 survivors and 117 bodies recovered. It was estimated that 464”
  • The Aftermath:
  • Two days after the ship’s sinking, The Egyptian Navy, with the assistance of dive instructors and divers from Hurghada and Safaga, began the unhappy task of recovering bodies trapped inside the wreck..
  • Dive plan: Resting on her starboard side in 30m of water, the Salem Express is an eerie dive. Begin your dive at the deepest point, the stern, where you find the two intact large screws and the rudders. Swimming along the bottom you pass lifeboats still at the davits. Next, you see the huge funnels with the haunting emblem ‘S’.

  • Coming up towards the bow, you will find the bow door wide open and the damage from the collision with the reef is daunting. Many dive guides refuse to dive the Salem
  • Dive her with respect.

  • What to see: Even the marine life seems to have left Salem Express alone. Some groupers, lionfish, crocodilefish and surgeonfish swim around. A small amount of hard coral growth has begun here.