Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ferry The Salem Express

Navales et Industrielles de la Mediterranee in La Seyne, France, in 1965. The ship was sailed under the name FRED SCAMARONI , and since 1969 she had been operating for the company Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. That company assigned her to the company Compagnie Générale Transméditerranéenne, which conveyed her to the Société Nationale Maritime Corse-Méditerranée in 1976.

In 1980, she was sold to the Ole Lauritzen and renamed the NUITS SAINT GEORGE, only for being sold just ten months later to the Egyptian company Lord Maritime Enterprise and given the name of LORD SINAI. She provided the transport between the Suez and Akaba. In 1984, she was renamed the AL TAHRA, and subsequently, in 1988, sold to the Samatour Shipping Company, which renamed her the SALEM EXPRESS. It was this company she was providing the ferry service between the harbour of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as long as December 1991 for, when she sank near the Egyptian port of Safaga. As for the number of casualties, the Salem Express ferry sinking belongs to the greatest maritime disasters of recent times.

Technical parameters of the ship:
Length: 4 m
Width: 17.8 m
Draught: 4.9m
Displacement: 4771 tons
Engines: 4 eight-cylinder diesel engines
Output: 11.100 KW
Speed: 19.5 knots

In December 1991, the Salem Express left the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah for her last voyage. Besides the load of several cars, hundreds of passengers returning from the holy city of Mecca were on her board. Her captain was Hassan Moro, who was in command of the ferry since 1988, and was one of the most experienced captains. Few people knew the route between Jeddah and Safaga as well as him. Before his moving to Safaga to work for the Samatour Shipping Company, he had also taught at the Egyptian Naval Academy. Based on his knowledge, he was in the habit of approaching the Safaga port by taking the south course between the mainland and the Hyndman reefs, which was a non-standard way. The route to the Safaga port has been designated with taking the so called north course around the Panorama Reef. That would keep the big ships in sufficient deep water, which would secure them more safety. However, this standard landing maneuver is by more then two hours longer then the route chosen by Captain Moro.

The Salem Express commenced the journey from Saudi Arabia with two days’ delay caused by the repair of one engine. In the night from 15 to 16 December 1991 the weather got worse, and regarding the number of the people on board who were just deck passengers, the Captain decided for the shorter landing maneuver, that is to take the south route around the Hyndman Reefs. Another reason for shortening of the journey should have been the two days’ delay and an alleged pressure exercised by the Samatour Line wishing the passengers would be disembarked from the ferry and the ship would return back to Jeddah as soon as possible, where other thousands of pilgrims were waiting for their return from the holy city of Mecca.
In the course of her 450 miles long voyage, the Salem Express insignificantly went off the course in the east direction, with the effect that it got not so far from the Hyndman Reefs as usual. Because the midnight was approaching and the sea was rough, nobody from the captain’s bridge could see the reef. That resulted in the Salem Express striking the most southerly reef of the Hyndman Reefs, which was 1/3 of the size of the ferry itself, and she went down on 16 December at 00.30 a.m.

Many lives were lost immediately. Other people were swimming for their lives in the rough sea. None of the lifeboats was launched to help to rescue the drowning people. The only thing that may have helped people in that moment was the current taking them towards shore.
Officially, the ship was carrying from 650 persons to 578 passengers and 72 crew members. However, the witnesses insist that she was carrying up to twice as many passengers. Only 180 persons survived the disaster. The ship’s physician, who survived the disaster, mentioned in her testimony that the ship had been like a tin of sardines. There were so many people crowded on the main deck that it was nearly impossible to walk on it.

No comments: