MS Estonia committee member: Holes caused by torn off bow visor

The hole in the side of MS Estonia.
The hole in the side of MS Estonia. Source: ERR

A Finnish expert believes holes in the side of the wreck of MS Estonia were not caused by rocks on the seabed or a collision with a submarine. He is convinced the holes were torn by the ferry's detached bow visor the can opener-like hooks of which caught on the hull and tore the holes.

There could be a logical explanation for holes found in the hull of MS Estonia the sinking of which was the most tragic peacetime maritime disaster of the Baltic Sea, says a Finnish expert who belonged to the ferry disaster's investigative committee back in the 1990s, Helsingin Sanomat reports (link in Finnish).

Klaus Rahka is a doctor of technology who specializes on strength of materials and believes that the holes were created when the detached bow visor slid down the hull and pierced it. The reason the holes were only discovered recently could be that the hull of the ferry has moved over the years.

Two previously unknown holes in the hull of MS Estonia were discovered by a documentary crew during a filming dive. The larger of the holes measures four meters in diameter.

The discovery has given rise to a plethora of speculation, including the ferry landing on rocks on the seabed as it sank or colliding with a submarine.

Klaus Rahka specialized on the analysis of fractures. The now retired scientist studied the fraction of steel structures for over 30 years and has studied the wear of steel used to construct the pressure chamber of the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant.

His experience made him doubt a recent theory according to which the holes could have been caused by MS Estonia landing on rocks.

"As someone who has analyzed fractures, I saw something other than the hull landing on rocks," Rahka says. "That is what caused me to put together my own report of fracture analysis and conclude that the holes were very likely torn by the falling bow visor."

Rahka has already contacted authorities in Estonia and Sweden and put together a thorough report complete with calculations and conclusions that has not been published.

According to the report, the holes were created immediately after the bow visor broke off from the hull. The theory rests on Rahka's calculations regarding the force of the visor coming down. It is furthermore supported by observations of survivors who reported sharp scraping sounds that could have been caused by the visor sliding down the side of MS Estonia.

Rahka's observations do not change the conclusion of the disaster's final report in terms of why the ferry sank. The committee found that MS Estonia was lost as a result of the bow visor breaking off.

Klaus Rahka says that the bow visor has can opener-like hooks. His analysis suggests the four-meter hole was torn into the side of the ferry by a correspondingly shaped force that fits in the middle of the hole.

The scientist suggests that the visor fell to the right side of the ferry's direction of movement and scraped on the moving ship's side. A pocket of air inside caused the visor to stay afloat for a few dozen seconds before sinking while scraping on the side of the ferry at a speed of seven meters per second, causing the newly discovered holes. The theory is reinforced by memories of survivors who describe loud bangs on the side of the ferry, followed by a slide that tore a hole in the moving hull – the visor's hook caused it to initially get stuck on the hull before breaking off and tearing the recently discovered hole on its way down.

Rahka said that the visor getting stuck is what caused sudden deceleration followed by the entire ferry shaking as described by survivors.

The scientist admits that as is the case with plane crashes, proving any theory is very complicated here. "But it is the likeliest cause."

MS Estonia sank on the evening of September 28, 1994. The disaster claimed the lives of 852 people, with just 137 rescued.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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