Head of MS Estonia investigation: Estonia sank on collision with submarine ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Margus Kurm on ETV's
Margus Kurm on ETV's "Pealtnägija". Source: ERR

Margus Kurm, former state prosecutor and head of the government's investigative committee looking into the sinking of ferry MS Estonia in 2005-2009, said in an interview with ETV's "Pealtnägija" that new scenes of the shipwreck show the ship most likely sank after a collision with a submarine.

You have seen these clips that have reached the media repeatedly and before anyone else. What was your first reaction and emotion seeing scenes of the dive?

The first reaction was shocking. Not because the hole (in the ship's hull - ed.) was visible but rather because it was discovered so simply.

Explain, what is the location of this hole and what is the meaning of it?

The meaning is [MS] Estonia did not sink because of a bow visor breaking, it was a collision with something large enough to create a four-meter long hole in the ship's hull.

This is an unbelievable twist!

It is not unbelievable in that sense. That there could be a hole on the ship has been mentioned in previous evidence and analyses. It is evidence for something that has long been speculated.

But a collision? With what?

Considering that the tear is below the water line and considering noone has ever mentioned that another ship could have sunk with Estonia and none of the survivors have said they saw a ship close to Estonia - the most likely cause is Estonia collided with a submarine.

That means there should be a damaged submarine somewhere?

Yes, it means there should be a damaged submarine somewhere. But I will specify a bit. If one says a collision with a submarine, the first thought is the submarine ran into Estonia from its side. It might not have been so simple. It was more likely a intrusion. That Estonia and a submarine went in the same direction. And we can not rule out that Estonia might have hit the submarine, grazed the submarine. The question is what was a submarine doing on Estonia's route.

There has been mentions of an explanation that perhaps the hole developed after the ship had sunk. There is a theory that it bumped into a large rock or cliff while sinking and that caused the hole.

I do not consider that likely. The part, the section where the damage was found has never touched the seabed. The position that Estonia is in post-accident was documented during dives conducted in 1994. There have been figures drawn, graphics made on how Estonia lies on the seabed. The entire bottom of the ship, including the vehicle deck, on both sides, is out of water. It is a simple thing, everyone can check it on paper at home. We know, according to the report that the ship is under a 211-degree angle. Meaning, if we draw a straight line vertically on Estonia's hull, from funnel to keel, and compare it to the seabed, the angle is 211 degrees.

In addition, from the footage provided, we know that Estonia's so-called hotel part is partly under mud but a large part still sticks out. A part of the captain's deck is also out. You can draw a two-dimensional picture of the position Estonia is in underwater. It clearly shows that the entire bottom, including vehicle deck, is away from the seabed.

And therefore, a statement has been made that the location of the damages was not visible earlier. It absolutely was. The entire bottom, including the vehicle deck, was away from the seabed and could have been filmed in 1994.

Which in turn leads to the point that in 1994, when the official investigative dives took place, the holes we see today were not spotted?

Yes. And that has been a large problem. Two options, it either was not filmed or was filmed and not made public. The second option is most likely, because the footage was lost.

The fact we have not been made aware of the hole for 26 years or it has been covered up is scandalous enough?

Well, I think so.

Once again. The hole, as it has been filmed by the documentary crew, would explain all those questions to you, but to anyone else still bothered by it?

This will sound funny but the hole fits Estonia's hull well. It explains all questions up in the air for 26 years. Firstly, it explains how water was able to get under the vehicle deck. Secondly, it explains why Estonia did not keel over in a few minutes.

If a large amount of water reaches the vehicle deck or a ferry loses stability in another way, it keels over in minutes, sinks, windows go under water and the ship's so-called superstructure breaks, it's larger, it gets heavier, sinks and the bottom, where the air is, rises to the top and since the air can not escape, the ship remains on the surface for hours or even days. This did not happen with Estonia. Estonia did not keel over in minutes, it stood up for half an hour. And once it finally tipped over, it sunk in ten minutes.

This hole solves all contradictory evidence as well. Since it is no longer necessary to bend the statements made by three young seamen, who saw from the machine room that the ramp was closed.

And most importantly - one of the men said in addition that he had seen from a camera pointed at the ramp that it was closed and water was coming in from the sides, he saw the side of the ship, from a camera pointed at the maritime pilot's door that there was water on the vehicle deck. Since the ship was angled, there was water on the starboard decks and there was enough to reach the front lights of the cars on board. Estimatedly, 500-700 tons of it.

All experts are in agreement that there is too much water for it to have come in from the sides of the ramp. But there is not enough water there for it to have come in from the opened ramp. If the ramp is open, 2000 tons would flow in a minute. There was 500-700 tons. Therefore, there was water on the vehicle deck. But it must have come in from someone else, not the ramp. And as we can see from the new footage, the tear reaches both the bottom and top of the vehicle deck. Meaning the hole - considerably smaller that an opened ramp - was where the water came from.

What should be done now with this information?

The wise don't rush (an Estonian idiom - ed.). I think the government should firstly sit down calmly and think deeply about the situation. And ask who we can trust at a time like this. And also think about how to win back the public's trust.

Let's go back in time. Everyone, who spoke of any kind of weapon smuggling, were ridiculed. It turned out in 2005 that there indeed were weapons transported. People speaking of a hole in the ship's hull all these years have been ridiculed. It was considered impossible. Now, 26 years later, we have footage of there being a hole.

If we add to it that less than a month after the sinking, there was an idea to cover the ship in concrete. A gravesite peace was agreed to in 1995. An international investigative committee had not yet been able to start their investigation when the Swedish government came out with an idea to cover the ship with concrete. And before the committee finished, the shipwreck was locked down. It is unheard of that the most critical piece of evidence is locked.

From the first reactions of the government of Estonia and other countries, I gather that there is a new investigation to be done, including a robot investigation. Would that satisfy you?

Yes and no. Like I said - the question is whether there is enough trust to conduct such research today. I think, considering all that has been mentioned, the Swedes should no longer be trusted on this topic. Does the Estonian government have enough trust credit to conduct an investigation, trusted by its people and the public as a whole? I do not think so. Meaning, if another investigation is conducted, it must be completely transparent. It would be good if the investigation would be headed by someone outside the government sector.

Secondly, the investigation committee must have representatives from Sweden and Finland as well. And thirdly, to me, there must be press involved. This investigation should be completely transparent. It should be followable online, in essence. If there is a dive, ETV must be there with cameras and film it. So everyone could see what is done, how it is done and what are the results. If we do not achieve such transparency, it is difficult to trust the final results of the committee.

But before all, I would recommend the Estonian government to sit down with the Swedes and ask if they have any documents archived where it says what actually happened. And if there are any people in Sweden who know what happened and are prepared to talk about it.

The further details and circumstances of MS Estonia's doom will be discussed at length on "Pealtnägija" on Wednesday.

Background

The ferry Estonia sank on the night of September 28, 1994, sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm. The sinking of Estonia is the largest maritime disaster in peacetime in the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people from 17 countries.

The shipwreck was investigated by a joint committee formed by the governments of Estonia, Finland and Sweden between 1994 and 1997 and by a government commission headed by the Public Prosecutor's Office in 2005-2009. 

In 1995, Estonia, Finland and Sweden signed an agreement to protect the shipwreck, which prohibits diving to the wreck.

The disaster is commemorated by the "Broken Line" monument in Tallinn.

The 'Broken Line' monument in Tallinn. Source: Jan Pohunek/Creative Commons

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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