October 25, 2011

Wreck treks: Salem Express

In the age of artificial reefs we sometimes think about all the wrecks as underwater playgrounds. We forget the tragedies and sorrows which hide beneath a sunken ship. Many of these are actually tombs where sailors, passengers, merchants died and there are those which were declared war graves and the diving is forbidden. Majority of the divers respect this and don't disturb the wrecks where dozens or hundreds of people died.

There is a wreck in Egypt which is controversial because its sinking was one of the worst tragedies in the maritime history. The Salem Express was a car and passenger ferry which collided to a reef not too far from the port of Safaga in 17th December of 1991. It sank in minutes. The official report said 470 people died there but many experts claim the passenger list wasn't credible, the loss of life was around 700- or more. It's still a mystery. It was simply too dangerous to recover all the bodies so the divers sealed some parts of the Salem Express with human remains. Many Egyptians think nobody should dive there. Whatever some people want the government didn't forbid visiting, as they let tourists visit tombs like the pyramids or the Valley of Kings.

Now the wreck of Salem Express is as recognized attraction as the pharaos' tombs. Those who stay in Safaga surely dive it and dive centers organize daytrips from Hurghada as well. Technically it's an easy dive. The 115 meters long wreck lies on her starboard side. The dive starts around 10 meters depth and the deepest point is only a bit more than 30. The visibility is usually good, most of the divers simply swim around, they see the bow, the bridge, the stern, the screw... It seems a perfect place for an easy and enjoyable wreck.

But somehow you feel the difference. It's an emotional experience. Even during the briefing when the guides ask everybody to respect the memory of the victims and don't take any items. I remember when one of the guides gave us some flowers to bring to this underwater cemetery. The glasses of the cabins are broken. There are the beds where families slept who didn't foresee the captain's tragic mistake. There are bags, suitcases, shoes. Only two decades passed since that night, the items look new. If you dive there you know and feel it's not a place to cheer up visitors like an artificial reef. Some leaders allow their guests to penetrate, some don't. There are spacious rooms and corridors with cars, a restaurant with tables still attached to the deck. And there are the bodies, somewhere deep inside the Salem Express behind steel plates.

However the Salem Express is popular amongst dive tourists. If you don't know its story everything seem peaceful and nice. But somebody, somewhere will tell you about this ship. You can dive here but you really have to respect this underwater graveyard. The sea what we love took the life of hundreds of children, women and men. See the wreck, the passengers' personal baggage, learn about their story and remember them.

More videos:
Divers scooter the Salem Express
Penetrating Salem Express

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