One of the questions we are asked most often about diving -- right after "Have you seen any sharks?" -- is "Have you ever dived on a shipwreck?"
We have dived on many wrecks, in many locations. Some were so old, decomposed, and covered with coral and marine plants that, except for the fact that there were bits shaped in an angular way not commonly found in nature, you'd hardly know you were looking at a piece of a wreck. Others were vessels that had been cleaned up and sunk intentionally to serve as artificial reefs -- and diver playgrounds.
By far, the most interesting wrecks to dive on are ships that sank due to some catastrophe. There is something very exciting -- and at the same time sobering -- about visiting the remains of vessels that had been underway until some sort of accident, act of war, or natural disaster caused them to sink. Many still bear the remains of their cargo, as well as items that had belonged to, or been used by, their crew or passengers.
I have to admit, though, that diving on 'real' wrecks can also be a bit creepy -- especially if you know that people died in whatever catastrophe did the ship in. In the next few posts, we'll tell you the story of one such wreck -- the Salem Express, a ferryboat that sank in the Red Sea in December of 1991, just outside the port of Safaga, Egypt. Several hundred lives were lost in that accident.
By chance, we were in Egypt when the Salem Express sank. We happened to be in Cairo, so we saw the dramatic TV news footage of the victims' relatives crying at the pier in Safaga, and read the newspaper stories full of speculation about what could have caused the vessel to run up on a reef so close to the port. The whole country was shocked by the Salem Express disaster.
Not long after, we heard from a diver friend who had been in Safaga at the time. He was staying near the port at a hotel that was popular with divers. He told us that the Egyptian authorities came around to that hotel on the night of the accident, asking for volunteers to help with search and rescue efforts. Our friend volunteered, along with most of the other divers who were staying at the hotel. They went immediately to the site of the accident in small boats, but they found no one alive to rescue. Our friend helped to recover some bodies, an experience that he said he would not wish to repeat, ever.
The following July, not quite seven months after the Salem Express sank, we got to visit the wreck. In fact, we made several dives there. How we got to do that is as much a story as what we saw at the site of the wreck.
Be patient. It will take several posts to tell the tale.
Here are the links to the rest of this story:
Part 2: A dream trip, a storm, a mutiny, and a consolation prize
Part 3: Ninja divers: First dive on the Salem Express
Part 4: Inside the wreck of the Salem Express
Part 5: The Salem Express wreck -- A human tragedy