The Salem Express was a ferry running between Safaga in Egypt and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Its Captain since 1988, Hassan Moro, was a very able and experienced Master Mariner. He knew the route incredibly well – so well that he often sailed between the Egyptian mainland and the Hyndman Reefs which lie just to the south of Safaga, cutting two hours off the usual sailing time of this route. This was not practised by any of the other captains, who preferred to stick to the safer and deeper waters until reaching Safaga.
On 16th December 1991, the boat was packed with pilgrims returning from Mecca. The weather conditions had deteriorated over night and as many of the passengers were deck-passengers, Captain Moro deliberately kept close to the coast, trying to protect them from the worst of the weather. Unfortunately he was slightly off course and hit the southerly part of Hyndman Reef very heavily.
The reef made a big hole in the forward starboard side of the boat, and the great impact caused the visor on the bows to be jolted upwards from its closed position, allowing water into the car deck. Vast quantities of water entered the boat and she started listing to starboard very quickly. Within 20 minutes, the Salem Express sank, resting at just over 30m on her starboard side.
The sinking was so swift, none of the lifeboats or life rafts could be launched and those who were able to swim from the ship as she sank, had to swim ashore, unaided.
Over the next few days, many bodies were recovered, but the Egyptian Navy had to eventually call a halt to the recovery as it became more and more dangerous to travel further into the wreck to bring out the bodies and the vessel was then sealed from all further intrusion. Because of this, many dive guides forbid divers in their charge from entering the wreck.
According to records, the Salem Express had 650 people on board – 578 passengers and 72 crew, although there are suspicions that this number was almost double. The official death toll was 470.
The Salem Express is one of the largest wrecks in the Egyptian Red Sea, about the same size as the Thistlegorm. She lies on her starboard side at 32m, with the uppermost port side lying at 10 – 12m.
To dive this poignant wreck, why not join us for our North and Brothers Red Sea Itinerary, which includes diving in the Safaga area and the Salem Express?