Salem Express

Salem ExpressThe Salem Express was a RoRo (Roll-on-Roll-off) car passenger ferry on her return from Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) to Safaga. She was carrying pilgrims who were returning from the holy city of Mecca.  Her official manifest showed 690 passengers and crew, but it is rumoured that she carried many more people (considering when she was first registered as the Fred Scarmoni in 1964, she was cleared for 1,200 people, 142 cars with 428 passenger cabins - the higher "rumoured" numbers are therefore quite likely).

On December 15th 1991, Captain Hasan Moro, one of Egypt most experienced mariners (he was well regarded and also taught at the Egyptian Naval Academy) was returning from Jeddah. It is well known, that Captain Moro used to take a short cut into Safaga by taking an unauthorised route into Safaga by drinving between reefs just south of Safaga. The harbour of Safaga is surrounded by a selection of reef (Panorma in the north, with Fellows Rocks and Middle Reef blocking Safaga in the west and Shi'b Shear and Hyndman reefs in the South.

Looking at the sea maps, the offical route is to sail around the reefs in the north and then approach Safaga, which would take a vessel such as the Salem Express an additional 1 to 2 hours to negotiate. Even though a 415 metre deep channel exists between Hyndman and Fellows Rocks, it is considered to dangerous to sail through with such a large vessel (esp. at night). Captain Moro new the area well and was known for sailing through this narrow strait. 

On the fateful day, the weather was deteriorating fast and the comfort on the vessel was severely compromised as she was being rocked back and forth in the gale force winds. Captain Moro took the decision to sail his "favourite" short-cut and try to shave 2 hours of the journey, but close to midnight with poor visibility the Salem Express "grated" onto the reef, shearing off the hinges off the car deck ferry doors. Water rushed into the car deck, making her list heavily within minutes. 

The Salem Express sank within 20 minutes, not even allowing for an orderly evacuation which led to the heavy loss of life, with an official death toll of 470 and a 180 survivors. Official records show 690 crew and passengers, however, it is common practice for the crew  not to register all passengers at the port of embarkation and take more people on board than allowed (extra revenue for both the owner and crew). This must have been the case as approximately 850 bodies were recovered (these reports were later denied by Egyptian authorities). The Egyptian Navy stopped recovery after 3 days as it became to dangerous to enter the lower decks of the ferry and sealed off the wreck. The actual number passengers will never be known, as official figures, initial reports and rumours offer different views of this wreck. 

How to dive the Salem Express

Salem Express

Many people refuse to dive the Salem Express and it is very likely that a crew member on your dive boat may have lost a family member on the Salem Express. It is therefore of utmost importance to be very respectful as it is considered an official grave site.

You can dive the Salem Express in many ways. A very enjoyable dive is just following her around from the outside. After 20 years, the wreck is covered with sea life and offers plenty to see without the need to penetrate her. You will find suit-cases and other personal belongings littering the outside of the wreck. Just leave them and don't touch them.

However, if you are one of the many divers who can't resist it, check with your local dive guide of what is acceptable and what is not. In general, the times we dived her the following was considered to be acceptable:

  • Enter the ferry from the stern door and follow it along the many car compartment. 
  • Careful that you don't disturb anything, you will find a lot of personal belongings lying around including children's toys and clothing
  • You can exit the car compartment through the "roof" (which is actually a port door as the ferry lies on its side)
  • You can enter the cafe on the top deck and swim around the chairs and tables 
  • If you want a bit of a squeeze, you can also enter the bridge

All other areas are off limits and should not be penetrated. Please respect her and her dead.

Salem Express

Posted on 4/23/2012 by SDA Editor

The Salem Express only sunk in 1991 and with still an unknown numbers of victims on board and the passengers luggage strewn in and around the ship - it does make for an eerie dive.

read more..

Key numbers

Dive type: Wreck

Length: 118m

Depth: 10m to 32m

Visibility: 20m+

Location: 26°38.42N, 34°3.76E

Difficulty: 3 Stars

Dive: 5 Stars


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Salem Express