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17 December 1991 - MV Salem Express at least 470 Souls lost #maritimehistory #OTD

The Salem Express was a passenger ship that sank in the Red Sea. It is controversial due to the loss of life which occurred when she sank shortly after midnight on December 17, 1991. Coordinates: 26°38′22.02″N 34°3′39.9″E

The Salem Express was a Roll-on/roll-off car and passenger ferry that operated between the ports of Safaga (in Egypt) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). The ship was constructed in 1964 in the La Seyne-sur-Mer shipyards in France and launched under the name Fred Scamaroni in 1966. After going through several owners and names, the ship was acquired by Hussein Salem, an Egyptian businessman and a confidant of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

On one such return journey from Jeddah, carrying hundreds of Egyptian pilgrims, she sank after colliding with the Hyndman Reefs on the Egyptian coast in the early hours of 17 December 1991. The impact holed the bows and forced open the bow visor. The ship very quickly took on water and sank, on her starboard side within minutes. Loss of life was considerable, with the official figure being quoted as 470. Rumour suggests that there were many more on board, however this is debatable as official records list the number of passengers and crew as 690.

Many bodies were recovered after the sinking, but eventually a halt was called due to the danger involved and the wreck was sealed with plates welded across openings.

Dives, as of April 2013, revealed that the wreck is in good condition and coral covers much of the ship. Scuba divers can peer into windows and easily enter the ship from many points. Reports of plates being welded over access points could not be verified. Additionally, while the bow of the ship is crumpled and bent, there are no signs of cracking, at least on the port side. The bow visor is clearly open by about 12-16 inches at the base, closest to the waterline. The sea floor, 29 meters deep, is littered with debris. Notably, two ridged life boats rest between the smoke stacks and the stern. At the stern of the ship, divers can enter the large car door. The wreck still contains cars and luggage.


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