Foreign ministry adviser: MS Estonia hole likely caused when struck seabed

Foreign ministry adviser Mart Luik.
Foreign ministry adviser Mart Luik. Source: ERR

A hole in the starboard side of the MS Estonia wreck may be one of many such breaches, says senior foreign ministry adviser Mart Luik.

"They (the documentary's makers – ed.) show one big hole, after which theories are presented in the film as to what impact that may have had. They do not explicitly claim in the film that this was the cause, however. They raise very many questions, so to speak," Luik told ERR Thursday.

A recent documentary aired on Swedish TV showed footage of the 4-meter hole in the hull of the Estonia, which sank off the Turku archipelago in heavy seas, en route to Stockholm, just over 26 years ago.

The finding raised speculation that it may have been the real cause of the disaster, rather than the official version, that a sheared-off bow visor was to blame.

One former disaster investigator, Margus Kurm, claimed that a Swedish submarine had struck the ferry, and the ensuing hole allowed seawater to rapidly enter the lower decks and lead to the Estonia's demise.

However, Luik, who has seen the new footage unedited, said that it was more likely caused when the vessel struck the seabed, which is between 80 and 85 meters deep in that location.

Luik is joined by experts from Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) who also saw the footage.

"It was described comprehensively," Luik, who traveled to Oslo to watch the documentary – which was made by a Swedish filmmaker based in Norway, said.

"In one episode (the documentary is in five parts and aired on the Discovery Channel in Sweden and other Nordic countries – ed.) I was giving an interview to Norwegian journalists, and at the same time the technical experts were being shown a very short clip. This was around a 15-second clip, played on a computer. It was raw footage, so to speak. The first thing visible was the sea bed, which was in fact rocky, not as the maers of the film claimed (that it was sandy – ed.) in fact. Then a damaged area could be made out around the the text 'Estline'," Luik went on.

Estline was the name of the now-defunct ferry operator which ran the Estonia.

Luik presented a sketch in which the presence of a crack is indicated in front of the lower portion of the first letter "E" of the text Estline, something experts had already reported in the past.

"Nothing has been said about that in this newly released film. We have asked the filmmakers to be shown the entire underwater footage," Luik said.

"They haven't answered yet, but we assume that we will reach agreement somehow."

Luik added that according to Estonian experts, there are more holes and other damaged areas in the vessel's hull, caused when it hit the bottom.

"There's hard surfaces, there or rocks, and these may in fact have interacted when the hull settled downwards near any sharp angles [of bedrock], which caused the damage."

A full inquiry is the only way to get to the heart of the matter, he added.

"We will investigate these specific finds independently from the film studio. In my understanding, this entails also additional underwater footage," he added.

Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) priced a unilateral Estonian investigation at between €5 and €20 million, depending on whether robots or human divers were deployed. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) has also called for a fresh investigation.

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.

The shipwreck, which lies in about 100 meters of water south of the Turku archipelago, 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. 

Two of the recent documentary's makers actually face potential jail sentences in violation of the agreement, since they are Swedish citizens.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: