Sweden to conduct new dives to Estonia ferry wreck this summer

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The MS Estonia. Source: ERR

New dives will be conducted to examine the wreck of the passenger ferry Estonia this summer, the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority (Statens haverikommission -- SHK) announced on Friday.

Estonia had already announced a similar decision earlier. The dives will focus on the newly discovered hole in the hull of the vessel, according to officials.

"When and how did this rupture occur? Was it before or after sinking?" director of SHK Jonas Backstrand said at the authority's press conference on Friday.

The decision was prompted by a documentary series of the ferry wreck which aired in fall 2020 and revealed a large previously unnoticed hole in the hull of the vessel. The video was filmed with the help of a diving robot in 2019.

A legal amendment passed by Sweden enables to conduct dives to the gravesite starting from July. 

Backstrand said that SHK also plans to reexamine the bow visor that was torn off in heavy seas. The new examination will also take into consideration a possible scenario of the hole in the vessel's hull having been caused during the sinking.

The dives will start on July 8 and last for 10 days. The works will be conducted in shifts around the clock. Approximately 15,000 to 25,000 images will be taken of the wreck in order to create a 3D model of the ferry.

Estonia has also previously announced its plans to examine the vessel during the same period.

Rene Arikas, head of the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau, told Postimees in May that the bureau's current task is to make an initial assessment and determine whether the findings of the final report of the Joint Accident Investigation Commission (JAIC), which investigated Estonia's sinking at the time, are still valid. 

"The official name of the activity is an initial assessment. The examination must identify the reasons for the formation of previously unknown holes in the hull," Arikas said.

The decision in principle to allocate altogether three million euros for studying the wreck was made by the Estonian government at a Cabinet meeting in March 2021.

Backstrand agreed with criticism of survivors of the shipwreck not having been interviewed after the disaster. This error has now been rectified.

"We've spoken to many people; however, numerous interviews still need to be conducted," he said.

About 20 interviews have already been carried out with some ten more to be conducted, according to Backstrand.

Investigation of the accident has yet to be reopened, however. It will be done if new information is found that gives a reason for doing so.

According to the official accident investigation, the reason for Estonia's sinking was the bow visor having been torn off in rough seas and the ship having been flooded. Rumors of a collision with another vessel or of an explosion have yet to subside, however.

The ferry Estonia with 989 people on board sank in a storm while en route from Tallinn to Stockholm on the night of September 28, 1994, killing 852 people from a total of 17 countries. 137 people on board the vessel survived.

It was the worst peacetime shipping disaster in European waters, and the second worst involving a European ship after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic in 1932.

In 1995, Estonia, Finland and Sweden entered into a peace of the grave agreement, which forbade diving down to the shipwreck.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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