TalTech engineers doubt MS Estonia sank due to submarine collision

The MS Estonia.
The MS Estonia. Source: ERR

Engineers at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) doubt the theory that MS Estonia sank on collision with a submarine, claimed by former prosecutor Margus Kurm after creators of a new documentary on the disaster released footage of a four-meter long hole in the wreck's hull.

The footage, first released on Monday on Sweden's national public television broadcaster SVT, shows a four-meter long, one-meter wide, hole in the wreck of the Estonia's starboard side.

According to the filmmakers, their findings support the theory that a hole in the hull of the ship contributed to the rapid sinking of the vessel, not just the shearing off of the bow visor. So far, the hole theory has been rejected by officials, however.

After seeing the footage, Margus Kurm, former state prosecutor and head of the government's investigative committee through 2005-2009, looking into the sinking of the ship, which went down in stormy seas off the Turku archipelago 26 years ago, said in an interview with ETV's "Pealtnägija" that the footage reveals the real reason for the sinking, which claimed 852 lives.

Kurm said: "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. Considering that the tear is below the water line, /.../ the most likely cause is Estonia collided with a submarine. /.../ The question is what was a submarine doing entering in Estonia's route."

Read the full interview on ERR News here.

Authors of the documentary also turned to scientists at TalTech for an expert analysis. Kristjan Tabri has researched ship collisions for more than 15 years and in September, he went to Norway to get acquainted with the new footage.

Tabri told ERR on Monday: "The exact location of the hole is unclear. It seems from the video at first that it (the hole - ed.) is at the end of the Estline lettering, but on further viewing it is below the 'E'. It is at the bottom of the lettering and somewhere near the bottom 'E'. /.../ It is more or less the area where the hole was. At the same time, all those red dots (see the video attached to article - ed.) show the seats of those who escaped from that location. If there was a hole there, allowing an inflow of 6,000, it is hard to imagine anyone getting out."

Tabri said his first prediction is the hole developed while the ship was sinking. "The ship weighs 12,000 tons. You need about 500 tons for this hole to develop. Most likely, if the seabed is uneven, it is enough to create such a tear in the hull."

That still leaves the question why the public was notified of this tear only 26 years after the disaster and after detailed investigations have been conducted. The TalTech senior researcher pointed to a plan, showing how the angle Estonia is on at the seabed has changed over time. Thanks to the ship sinking futher into the seabed, the hole - which was not visible during investigation conducted in the 1990s - later emerged.

Kurm argued this point passionately. He said the region of the ship's hull where the hole was discovered, had never touched the seabed. "... 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," Kurm said.

TalTech emeritus professor Jaan Metsaveer, who has researched Estonia's sinking, said the scandal comes from nowhere. According to Metsaveer, the documentary creators do not provide sufficient evidence to disprove the official reasoning, though the hole should still be investigated.

The professor said: "Well, they need the advertising... If we really wish to find out how the hole developed, we must study it. We know it came from the seabed, but how, we do not know now."

On Monday, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said that in connection with new information revealed about the Estonia ferry disaster, an underwater investigation must be carried out.

Ratas said this is significant new information which has not been discussed before and a clear answer must be given. "This must, of course, be done with dignity and transparency," Ratas said.

"A new technical investigation into the new circumstances of the Estonia must be carried out. In our view, the technical investigation should include underwater observations, and we have also informed Finland and Sweden," said Ratas.

Sinking of the MS Estonia

The ferry Estonia sank on the night of September 28, 1994, sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm. The sinking is the largest maritime disaster in peacetime in the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people from 17 countries. It is also the second-largest peacetime maritime disaster, so far as European vessels go, since the Titanic.

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.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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