Red Sea May 2018

a deptherapy blog

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23 May2018

Roots Expedition May 2018 • Day #6

by Mark Moore | 23rd May 2018

The wreck of the Salem Express, which lies in the sea off Safaga, is treated with great reverence by the Egyptians because of the great loss of life resulting from her sinking.

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.

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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.

It was an early morning breakfast and a 0715 departure to the harbour in Safaga where we boarded a large day boat to travel to the wreck site. We were given a quick boat briefing and a short further dive briefing. The depth of the wreck lies between 9 metres and 36 metres but the instructional team had set a maximum depth for the two dives we were to have on the wreck at 22 metres.

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The wreck is beautiful, covered in coral and aquatic life, and as we descended in our groups the wreck came clearly into view.  At the side of the wreck are the lifeboats that were never launched, as well as suitcases and possessions that belonged to the passengers.

When we came up after the first dive there were comments such as ‘haunting’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘peaceful’. All the expedition members were suitably moved by the experience.  We took a short surface interval and then dived the wreck again. After we came back on board the boat lunch was served and we set sail for the home port.

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The usual instructional team meeting took place that evening, followed by the full team meeting. There were lots of congratulations for those that had obtained new certifications. Certificates were presented to those who had passed the Coral Cay conservation course.  Special mention was made of a young man who is dyslexic but who managed, by having the questions and choice of answers read to him in the final exam, scored 100% - an absolute rarity.

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Steve and Clare, the owners of Roots, were presented with a beautiful inscribed slate plaque on behalf of the expedition team. Steve and Clare and all their staff have a real bond with the expedition members and some have become close friends.

Although tonight was the night to party, things were quite subdued; tiredness had overcome many and numbers soon dwindled after dinner. A few stayed up to welcome three contestants from Miss Scuba UK who had arrived for a week’s diving and photo shoot at Roots.

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