Authorities in Finland and Sweden are ready to clarify the legal status of dives to wreck of the MS Estonia, a grave site currently protected by an agreement, State Secretary Taimar Peterkop says.
The two countries, together with Estonia, are preparing a joint decision on whether further exploration can go ahead, following allegations calling into question the official explanation of the 1994 sinking.
"Current Finnish and Swedish law allows diving expeditions around the wreck of the Estonia only for the purpose of covering the site (with concrete or other material – ed.), or if there are environmental issues," Peterkop told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Thursday.
"My understanding is that all parties here want clarity, have taken on board the public interest and are ready to work together for that clarity. If there is a need for further investigation into the wreck, they are ready for that. The desire is to move forward as quickly as possible," Peterkop went on.
Former investigation chief: Sweden is hiding something
Head of an earlier committee of inquiry Margus Kurm is sceptical about Sweden's intentions in particular, however.
Kurm told the Riigikogu Thursday that Swedish authorities are in an unreasonably hurry to investigate and cover over the wreck, which lies on the sea bed in around 100 meters of water south of the Turku archipelago, and declare it a permanent grave.
This raises doubt, particularly given a number of witness statements have not been taken into account, Kurm said at Thursday's session, initiated by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
Kurm said: "This inevitably leads on to believe that the Swedish state has something to hide, that the cause of this shipwreck is some kind of event that the Swedish state has wanted to hide for 26 years, and is doing everything it can to conceal in the future."
Kurm has previously hypothesized that a submarine in Swedish naval service struck the vessel, with the ensuing hole causing it to sink.
The official explanation is that a bow visor sheared off while the ship was traveling at some speed in stormy waters, when it sank on September 28 1994.
Sweden's navy currently operates two diesel-electric submarines.
Foreign ministry adviser: No substance to conspiracy theory
Ministry of Foreign Affairs adviser Mart Luik has called criticism of Sweden and Finland, together with Estonia the countries by far the most affected by the disaster in terms of loss of life, unfounded.
Luik said: "Very active dialogue is taking place between Finland, Sweden and Estonia, so that further research can take place."
Kurm claims that only Sweden's defense forces and secret services would have the clout required to get that country's government to exercise the cover-up he says has taken place.
One example of this is Sweden's reluctance to bring its full technological capabilities, including dive robots and submersibles, in the investigation into the disaster.
The only official dive operation took place in December 1994, he said, some of the footage of which – by the Swedish maritime authority – has been destroyed, and other evidence and witness statements have also been obscured, he said.
A documentary which aired earlier in the year on the Discovery Channel in Sweden made use of dive footage illegally obtained last year, showing holes in the wreck's hull.
The film's maker, a Swedish national, is currently living in Norway and potentially faces a prison sentence for breaching the peace of the grave at the wreck site.
The MS Estonia sank on the evening of September 28, 1994. The disaster claimed the lives of 852 people. 137 survived.
Editor: Andrew Whyte