Salem Express

Location: Egypt Egypt

This is a large and intact wreck in clear shallow water not far from the coast in The Red Sea, at Safaga, south of Hurghada in Egypt. As a dive site, it's an excellent wreck, although not surrounded by that many fish. But the story that surrounds its sinking, and those who lost their lives in the disaster, make it more special for some divers.

Diver At Salem Express Egypt
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Salem Express is one of the most-famous scuba diving wrecks in the world, and certainly in The Red Sea. The main reason it's so famous is the tragic circumstances in which nearly 500 innocent men, women and children lost their lives. The wreck is very large, almost completely intact, can be penetrated in places, and is well within reach of recreational scuba divers. Although not a great deal of marine life has made Salem Express home in the past 30 years, it's still large and interesting enough to dive twice on the same day. Its location makes it a popular day trip dive from Safaga, and it's on many Red Sea liveaboard diving itineraries from a number of ports, including Hurghada and Ghalib.

  • The history of the boat : The vessel was built in France in 1964 and was known by several names before finally being named MV Salem Express. It was a roll-on roll-off passenger car ferry measuring 100 metres long & 18 metres wide. Its final journeys were between Safaga, Egypt, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
  • The tragedy happened in the middle of the night of December 15th 1991, when the boat was very near the end of its journey from Jeddah to Safaga. Just 5 kilometres from the coast, and less than 20 kilometres from its destination, the ship was caught in a strong storm that caused it to hit Hyndman Reef. Gouging a huge hole in the front and side, the forward momentum of the ship forced water into the hull. Many factors contributed towards the huge loss of life. These include the time of night, when most passengers were asleep on lower decks. Plus the dark made it harder to escape or find loved ones. The very rough conditions made things even more difficult, and many passengers were unable to swim at all. The official death toll is 470 of the nearly 650 on board. However, there are rumours that Salem Express was heavily overloaded with more than 1,000 onboard. This may have contributed to the accident happening, and certainly affected rescue efforts and the death toll. It is reported that just 30 minutes passed from when the ship struck the reef and it reaching the seabed 30 metres below the surface. Several lifeboats sit on the sandy bottom, having never been released with passengers. The ship lays on her port side, with the bow facing south west. After the short rescue mission, there was a recovery to retrieve as many bodies as possible.
  • Salem Express is littered with many personal belongings of the victims of this tragedy. These include items that one would expect families to travel with, such as personal audio devices, pushchairs for babies, and even some bicycles. Muslim prayer mats are also visible. Of course, many other items such as books and some clothing will have perished over the three decades since the accident. Out of respect for the now-dead owners of each item, and for the benefit of future divers, it's important that you do not touch anything inside the wreck.
  • Divers with good buoyancy are able to penetrate Salem Express at certain parts. Other parts are out of bounds or becoming weak from so many years' erosion. It's vital to listen carefully to your dive briefing and follow all instructions during the dive. Good buoyancy control is important for obvious reasons, but especially so considering that this is the final resting place for nearly 500 poor souls. Also, there are plenty of well-camouflaged species which hide on the wreck's surface, including scorpionfish.
  • Red Sea Clownfish at Salem Express EgyptMarine life at Salem Express is not the main reason for diving here. Even though the wreck has sat here for 30 years, there are not many fish larger than 30cm in length that call the wreck their home. It's almost like they know that this is a ghostly location and they are afraid to spend too much time here. Coral is covering many parts of the wreck, but other wrecks around the world in similar conditions tend to attract more resident life and visiting species.
  • Because so many people lost their lives here, and many were followers of the Islamic faith, some people choose not to dive at Salem Express out of respect or fear. If you are planning to join a day trip from Safaga, then it's easy to choose not to go on one to Salem Express. But if you are on a Red Sea liveaboard diving cruise in this area, it's likely that Salem Express will be on the itinerary. If you choose to skip the dive(s) here, there is likely to be no reduction in your cruise cost. Just because there some divers choose not to get in the water doesn't mean that the running of the trip is any less expensive to the operator.
  • Salem Express is often one of the final dives of a Red Sea diving liveaboard itinerary because it's close to shore and near to the disembarkation port in Hurghada. It can be enjoyed as one deep dive followed by a shallow dive to help divers minimise their intake of Nitrogen towards the end of the trip. Also, it's possible for Salem Express to be on the first full diving day of a week-long cruise that departs from Hurghada.



Conditions at Salem Express

12 - 30 metres
39.4 - 98.4 ft
21.9 - 30.6 °C
71.4 - 87.1 °F
Weak - Medium
15 - 30 metres
49.2 - 98.4 ft
Usually calm

When to dive at Salem Express

Best Times: May to October

Sea & weather conditions enable you to dive all year round at Salem Express, but the warmer months are July & August. The coldest period is in February. Therefore, the dive site is more crowded in the months when conditions are warmer.

Type of dive site

Wreck Diving

Salem Express is a large wreck that lies in shallow water not far from Egypt's Red Sea coast at Safaga.

Where is Salem Express?

The location of Salem Express Wreck is just five kilometres from the coast. There is nothing of interest at nearest point of the mainland, that is 16 kilometres south of Safaga. From Safaga to the dive site is 20 kilometres travelling south east. The distance between Hurghada and Salem Express is 70 kilometres.

How to get to Salem Express

Liveaboard Boat, Day Trip Boat

You can access Salem Express by day trip boat from Safaga, but the best diving experiences are enjoyed on a Red Sea liveaboard diving safari from Hurghada, Port Ghalib or Marsa Alam.

Who can dive at Salem Express

All levels. Minimum 20 logged dives.

Because the wreck's shallowest areas are at just 12 metres below the surface, any level of certified diver can explore much of it. Its deepest points are at 30 metres, meaning that the whole wreck is within the limits of recreational scuba divers. But in reality, most dive groups here require divers to be certified to 30 metres, such as Advanced / CMAS2 or at least Open Water with Adventure Deep dive certification.

What marine life can you see at Salem Express?

It's possible to see all kinds of interesting marine life at Salem Express. But divers do not come here for the marine life, and to be honest, there are not many fish at the wreck considering its size and how long it's been here. The larger and more-exciting pelagic species do not show up very often, but anything is possible. In general, most of the fish here are smaller species, such as Lionfish, Snapper etc. Barracuda and Trevally can sometimes be seen hunting on the outer edges of the wreck.

You can also see
Click marine life images/links for more details!

Summary of Salem Express

Salem Express is one of the most-famous diving wrecks in the world. Some divers choose not to dive here, out of respect or fear for the nearly five hundred people who lost their lives here. After 30 years on the sea bed the wreck is still intact, and attracting some coral growth. It's a very large wreck, and covers depths of more than twenty metres. Therefore, it's not possible to cover all in one dive, so you need at least two dives here to properly explore.

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