Helme: Estonia wreck can't be raised, unilateral dive investigation viable

The MS Estonia sank on the night of September 28 1994, with the loss of 852 lives.
The MS Estonia sank on the night of September 28 1994, with the loss of 852 lives. Source: ERR

Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) says raising the wreck of the MS Estonia is beyond the resources of the state, given it would cost over €100 million.

At the same time, resources are there to conduct unilateral underwater surveys of the wreck, subject of a recent documentary aired in Sweden which revealed a four-meter hold in the starboard hull, a project which would cost between €5 and €20 million, depending on whether robots or human divers were employed.

The discovery of the hole has prompted speculation that this breach was the ultimate cause of the sinking, and not the official explanation of a sheared-off bow visor.

Helme said that the cabinet agreed on three points: First, that all investigation should be conducted openly and with public and media accountability, second, that relatives of the 852 victims of the 1994 disaster must be involved at all stages, and third, the private sector, including international companies, should be involved.

Marge Kohtla, head of the Police and Border Guard (PPA) maritime section said that Estonia could go it alone, however.

"We could use sonar to scan the seabed to get an initial picture of the surrounding situation. Then we can use an underwater robot. The Estonia lies at a depth of 80 to 85 meters."

Kohtla added the Kurvits, a PPA vessel, has dive robot capabilities which would make it ideal, adding that human divers are really needed for a full picture.

The PPA's diving robot is usually used in inland waterways, primarily to search for dead bodies.

Mart Helme, whose ministry oversees the PPA, claimed that current equipment has a maximum depth of 60 meters, meaning private sector tenders would be needed.

Helme added that regardless of the outcome of any investigation, appetites for conspiracy theories among some people were a fact of life.

A former investigator into the disaster, Margus Kurm, claimed early this week that the hole was caused by a Swedish submarine and was the real reason for the vessel's demise.

Sweden, Estonia and Finland, the three countries hardest hit by the sinking in terms of death toll, have signed a sanctity of the grave agreement which prevents private divers from operating at the site, at least if the divers and their vessels are from signatory countries.

The recent documentary made use of a boat sailing under the German flag – Germany is not a signatory to the agreement – though two individuals, including the main filmmaker, were Swedish nationals, meaning they could potentially receive jail sentences for their activities.

The MS Estonia sank 26 years ago, 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, and second-largest peacetime maritime disaster, so far as European vessels go, after the Titanic. 


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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