Underwater surveys at the wreck of the ferry Estonia will not be started this fall, nor will an investigative committee with an independent chairperson established anytime soon, State Secretary Taimar Peterkop told Postimees television on Monday.
Peterkop said that while Estonia does have the technical capability to start the work on its own, the timetable is dictated by the need to get cooperation between three countries going.
"Technically, we do have the readiness, but politically it would make sense to do it with Sweden and Finland. Should Finland and Sweden say that it's important for you, but isn't for us, go do it alone, their consent would still be necessary," Peterkop said.
Raivo Hellerma, member of the Memento Mare association representing the Estonia victims' next-of-kin, said that a very serious discussion was held regarding options for Estonia moving ahead alone at Monday's meeting between representatives of the organizations of survivors and the victims' next-of-kin and the state secretary.
"If they are unable to make initial and basic decisions in Finland and Sweden by Christmas, apparently some other mechanisms must take over," Hellerma said.
According to the victims' next-of-kin, the first works at the wreck should be performed in the first quarter of next year at the latest.
"Estonian companies have very good technical capabilities and winter is not an obstacle to these processes. We don't have to wait until Midsummer," Hellerma said.
Peterkop meanwhile said that scientists must be heard first.
"Let scientists say what needs to be done, and we will go and get that information as soon as possible. Definitely the goal is for that to happen before next summer," Peterkop said, adding that he cannot imagine the possibility that the government could back down politically on its promise that the wreck will be examined.
Peterkop said that the focus of the inquiry now is on the hole found in the hull, filming the hull and charting the damage, as well as finding out about the origin of the holes. Everything being to do with the alleged transportation of a weapon, theories concerning missing crew members and an explosion connected with the breaking of the visor is not in the focus of the inquiry now, he said.
Peterkop also said at the Postimees studio that no classical investigation committee will be established at this point and they are not on the lookout for a full-time independent chairperson for it.
"It's very difficult to find a specific person to deal with that. About ten names have been mentioned, but time not suiting has become an obstacle and, let's make no secret of it, this is a position that is under major pressure," Peterkop said, adding that the government has decided that no active search for a chairperson will be conducted at this point.
"At present, I chair it and will continue to chair it," Peterkop said.
This, according to Postimees, was an unpleasant surprise for the survivors of the disaster and the victims' next-of-kin, as a month ago members of the government promised that the inquiry will not be conducted by politicians or officials of the state.
According to survivor Carl Eric Reintamm, a state official who depends on their employer is not suited to lead the inquiry.
"The Swedish ethics committee is a good example of what happens when a government puts together a committee which decides what to do. People get a good salary, but the end result is that they fulfill the order of the government. I very much fear such thing. As things stand, I will not feel confident until I see that people have been brought in who have been dealing with the matter for years and whom we trust. Such as Margus Kurm," Reintamm said, referring to the former state prosecutor who headed an inquiry committee of the Estonian government from 2005 to 2009.
The state secretary said that he will bring in Margus Kurm.
"My team includes Government Office employees. Hence I wouldn't like to say that he is a member of my team, but he will be involved," Peterkop said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte