Estonia shipwreck investigator: Estonia should take lead role

Families of the victims gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of the MS Estonia ferry disaster.
Families of the victims gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of the MS Estonia ferry disaster. Source: Aurelia Minev/ ERR

Swedish journalist Lars Borgnäs, who has investigated the MS Estonia shipwreck, says that Estonia should take the lead role in investigating the disaster, adding that the investigation should be transparent, independent, international and comprehensive.

There is a new breaking point in the investigation of the MS Estonia shipwreck and Sweden is preparing for a legal amendment related to it. How optimistic are you regarding that and what form might the amendment take?

I would say that for the first time in many many years, I am quite optimistic that something has to come out of this. We have thought about it before, but now it seems that it is not possible to leave it like this, something has to be done. But everything depends on who will take the initiative. And I think that here, Estonia has an important role. I think that the initiative should come from Estonia. Sweden and the Swedish government has shown a tendency to try to limit the investigation, and hasn't been too active. Considering this, Estonia should take the lead position.

In 1994, Estonia was a young country. Sweden was stronger in every sense. Sweden was dominant and maybe Estonia felt like a little brother. Now the situation has changed, Estonia is equal to Sweden and can take full responsibility to answer the questions from the Estonia people, which are actually the questions of Swedish people as well. In other words, what happened? And what we don't yet know of the accident and what we could find out if we went to the wreck and see it. I think it should be done and Estonia should take the lead role in the question.

A legal amendment is planned. When reading about it, on the one hand, it is said that the law will allow investigations, on the other, it is stated that the gravesite peace agreement won't be removed. What is Sweden going to plan and what not; how can it be understood?

I think it's understandable that the bodies of the deceased should be protected from people going to dive there for leisure. This can't happen. There should be some kind of legal protection against it. This is one aspect. The other aspect is that it should be possible to organize divings there and look at the ship to find new facts. Facts are where we haven't looked for them. The facts are on the ship. And if we think as I do that there is more to it, there is more that needs to be explained, then not only the hole has to be investigated but the whole wreck.

To allow this investigation, the gravesite peace agreement has needed to be terminated for some time. And I think we should understand Sweden's approach, although I think they haven't been clear in that sense and they should have been more so.

You said that the subject is as important to the Swedes as it is to Estonians. How active have the loved ones of the victims been; maybe it's a closed chapter for most of them, or how does it seem?

I don't know, I haven't asked them that and others haven't asked them either. But I don't think that any relatives of the victims would say that it isn't important to find out what happened. I think that almost everybody says that if we manage to find out the truth about what happened, it is good.

The other question is bringing up the remains. This is another subject. But to find out the truth and eliminate the questions marks, I think, most of the relatives and loved ones agree that is very important and should be done.

And I would like to add what should the investigation look like. For several reasons, it is very important how it's done. Firstly, transparency; this investigation needs to be transparent. It means that it should be clear to the public, survivors and loved ones of the victims - what has been done, how it has been done, what evidence has been found and how has it been interpreted. Transparency is extremely important. And I doubt that it's possible to reach it when only the investigative institutions do it because they are national institutions and not entirely independent.

There should an independent investigation, with international expertise not only from the people of the three main countries (Sweden, Estonia and Finland - ed.). This way, complete transparency is ensured. And as I said previously, the reach of the investigation is important as well. Not only the hole should be investigated but the whole wreck. When we do it this way, it is easier to reach acceptance of the results.

And I think it would be great if an independent commission is founded in Estonia and in Sweden, but I think it's more likely to happen in Estonia.

It is difficult to find people who are completely independent.

That is true and it is a good reason to look abroad, to other countries and find international expertise. But I agree that it is difficult to find independent people from these three countries. But people with international expertise could be asked to join the investigation. It would make the investigation more trustworthy.

And maybe it will help the less trusting people to come to terms with the results?

I think that you don't have to be distrustful to demand answers. I think that the answers are necessary in every case even if you don't have any theories or suspicions. There can't be any uncertainty surrounding the disaster that happened to the 852 people. Not everything has been done to find answers to the questions. What we are talking about right now, should have been done ages ago. But it's not too late, and it is great if it happens, 26 years later.

And maybe we have better technological measures to establish the truth?

Yes, I think that's right, we have better technological possibilities, better diving techniques and so on. What we need is a will to do it, and we haven't seen that during the past 26 years. I have doubts about Sweden's will, but I think that Estonia has much more of a yearning to find out the truth. I hope that Estonia will take the lead position to carry out this important job.

The Swedish government has always just reacted and never taken a step themselves to find out the truth, they have only reacted to outside signals. Why is it like that? I can't see any other explanation when they are still not initiating anything, other than that they are really afraid about what they could find from there. They don't know what they could find and the worst-case scenario is that something very ugly will be revealed. And they don't want to do it. Here is the difference compared with Estonia. You have not inherited such an attitude since the 1990s. You have a much better chance of being free in this matter, and really looking for anything that can come out of it and that can help you find the truth about the shipwreck.

And I think one thing that would be important to look at is the car deck, it's never been investigated for some reason, which is actually very weird. As you know, there have been many questions about what was being transported on the vehicle deck that evening, which has led to many speculations. The best way to stop this speculation is to go there and look. In my opinion, this should also be one of the tasks for this new committee of inquiry.

Are you still working on this topic?

Yes. I've been working on this for so long. This is an extremely important issue for me because it is a question of the responsibility of the state to its people. So many people died and it is the responsibility of the countries to find out what happened without any doubt. It is inherent and has not been done. If this is still possible, it must be done. That's why I keep working on it.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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