MS Estonia wreck preliminary investigation identified deformations in wreck

Screenshot from the recent documentary, showing the hole in the MS Estonia's starboard side.
Screenshot from the recent documentary, showing the hole in the MS Estonia's starboard side. Source: ERR

The first two days of preliminary investigations into the MS Estonia wreck, which sank back in 1994, were successful. Surveys of the shipwreck and the surrounding seabed were carried out with a fan sonar and the crew received an overview of the condition of the ship.

Rene Arikas, head of the Estonian Safety Investigation Center, said on Friday at 3 p.m. the research of the shipwreck began. The work ended late at night when it was getting dark outside and the work was being stopped by increasing winds and waves.

Arikas confirmed that despite the waves, the data and image quality achieved with the fan sonar are surprisingly good.

The mother research ship Eva-316 docked Finland overnight and the data and processed. On Saturday morning it was possible to return to the scene of the accident.

Arikas said the bow, wedge, and stern of the MS Estonia wreck are clearly distinguishable in the images. It is possible to see the bridge, the superstructure, the rows of windows on the upper decks and the anchor, propeller and other details. Deformations in the middle of the hull are also visible.

"In the area around the ship to the north of the ship, the image shows a ridge, which has probably formed as a result of the ship's sinking," Arikas said. "There is a five to seven-meter canal between the ridge and the hull. A canal has also formed in the stern of the ship. The reason for the canals is that the ship has collapsed south and east from its original position as it lies on a ridge. A total of four smaller and larger collapses can be seen, the last of which occurred during the disposal of the wreck in 1995-1996, when the entire bow and stern, as well as the south part, was covered with geotextile and 300,000 cubic meters of sand was brought to cover the wreck."

On Saturday, surveys of the entire area were conducted with the bottom profiler. Arikas said that the image shows a cross-section of the central part of the Estonian wreck.

"It can be estimated that the middle of the ship rests on the harder moraine and stern on a softer clay. We have seen from the studies that the middle of the ship is rather taller and deflected. We plan to find out more precisely with the research that will be carried out in the coming days," Arikas said.

On Sunday, Brian Abbott, a Mesotech 3D scanning expert from the United States, joined the team. Apparatus was tested and precision coordinates were prepared for use with Mesotech sonar. The tripod 3D scanner is planned to be relocated from 20 to 25 locations around the wreck to obtain highly accurate measurements of both hull damage and the seabed surrounding the ship.

"After the 3D scanner, we will quickly carry out the initial data processing and use it to decide what the future will be. If the transparency of the water allows, we plan to use an underwater robot in the coming days to study the already known hull deformations - to measure their exact location," Arikas said.

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 1912.

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

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.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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