Salem Express 12 years on

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Mar 28, 2002
Today is the 12th anniversary of the sinking of the Egyptian ferry Salem Express which hit a reef in the Red Sea on 15th December 1991. 1400 people are thought to have lost their lives of the 1600 on board. Today the wreck site is a major toursit diving attraction, despite the fact that the ship is most definitely a grave site.

However, the links below have a few fascinating photos of the wreck and there are also write-ups on the disaster.



Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
Salem Express provides a classic example of the vanity of relying on lifeboats. She went down in a few minutes and her boats sit beside her on the sea bottom.

Like many of these ferry disaster, the death toll is not certain. Lloyds put it at only 464, with 180 survivors.

Inger Sheil

Feb 9, 1999
I remember that when I went on a dive liveaboard trip to the Brother Islands in the Red Sea I was alarmed to find that the Salem Express was frequently included as a part of the itinerary for dive vessels in the area.

Egyptian military divers pulled as many bodies out as they could before further penetration dives were deemed too dangerous and the wreck was sealed with concrete. It is doubtful we'll ever know exactly how many bodies remain on board.

Most dive guides reflect the profound moral ambiguity divers sense around this site. On the one hand, it seems somehow akin to visiting the site of a recent major transport accident - say a downed 747 or a train. In the immediate aftermath of the sinking, and for years afterwards, personal effects, such as bags of duty free that the pilgrims to Mecca had brought home with them, could apparently be seen strewn around the wreck. The dive tours started almost as soon as the ship was sealed.

On the other hand, I've dived historical wrecks that still contain human remains, including the wreck of a passenger ship that was the victim of a cyclone, not war. Is it any more disrespectful to visit that ship which sank in 1911 than to visit the Salem Express? At what point does it become acceptable - assuming, of course, that we treat the site with respect and don't attempt to pick up souveneirs (divers don't penetrate the Salem Express or the Yongala, and are advised by operators to respect the site). Visiting battlefields in the immediate aftermath of the battle as part of recreational tourism would generally be frowned upon, and yet many of us visit historic battlefields now both to pay our respects and visit an historical site.

Those who have dived the Salem Express state that the site of the unlaunched dive boats sitting on the sea floor is extraordinarily evocative - certainly the photos of them are haunting. Many who choose to dive the site are advised that it is a purely personal moral decision, and if they do opt to visit this wreck it should be borne in mind that it is a grave site.

In the end, as such a personal issue, I'm glad that the only wrecks I dived in the Red Sea were beautiful, spectacular, and had sunk without loss of life. I'm also glad that I wasn't asked if I wanted to dive the Salem Express - I couldn't have done it.
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