MS Estonia preliminary investigation not yielding any big surprises yet

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An ongoing submarine investigation at the wreck of the MS Estonia has not yet yielded any obvious surprises. The venture is being conducted jointly by Swedish and Estonian teams.

Head of the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau Rene Arikas said that: "We haven't seen any great surprises so far," of the dive, which started last Friday, and is a preliminary to further work to start next spring.

"Instead, in the coming few days we will get more precise information to talk about in greater length," Arikas added, quoted by BNS.

The work has also yielded photos of the wreck (see gallery above).

Wreck lies deck-down

The fresh investigation, the first of its kind since the 2000s, follows a documentary that aired on Swedish TV last year and included footage of holes which appear in the hull of the wreck, which lies upside down in around 100 meters of water, south of the Turku archipelago.

"As of now, we have charted the entire area around the wreck and the seabed under the route of the ship's sinking," Arikas went on.

"We have this picture now. There were no surprises in that. We have received confirmation of the knowledge that we had before, and rather we have been able to garner more precise data and create a 3D model."

More now known about debris ejected from vessel as she sank

Researchers say that while they were already aware that various objects had fallen out of the stricken ferry, which sank in the small hours of September 28 1994, at the time of disaster, the exact location and nature of these objects is now largely known, thanks to the new investigation.

The wreck itself exhibits multiple damage sites sustained in the course of the sinking.

Arikas said: "I don't think we can write down all the damage in great detail because of its quite large scale. But we certainly plan to pay more attention to more critical areas, especially in view of the potential damage in the starboard side: Where damage is located, how big it is. This is the purpose of the preliminary survey."

Data outstrips that gathered from preceding surveys

Data so far collected already exceeds that of previous surveys, he added.

"We are getting a three-dimensional image," he said, noting such a picture is needed to understand where to commence next year's main survey, and to get a detailed picture of the whole zone.

"We had such information from the 1995 and 1996 surveys, but it was not accurate enough. Now we can get much more detailed and concise information," Arikas said.

The new investigation also takes advantage of all the advances in technology over the past 27 years.

Damage caused by impact with seabed

Damage resulting from contact with the seabed is clear, Arikas said; surveys have revealed that while the bed consists of a soft sandy surface, this masks harder and angular bedrock below.

Arikas said that: "If the ship collided with the seabed when she sank, the most severe damage is in the stern section, where, comparing that with plans, it can be seen that lighter structures located there are more vulnerable to damage. This damage has been carried over to the central part of the vessel, and in all probability the stack section has suffered a good amount of damage."

Work conducted on July 12 and 13 went well, with no equipment failures, while weather conditions were good.

The teams used side scan sonar and a multibeam sonar belonging to Stockholm University on the vessel Electra, which, BNS reports, give an excellent overview of the wreck of the Estonia and the seabed surrounding the wreck.

More light being shed on geological picture

Arikas said the seabed was also explored using a profiler, which allows a user to view the seabed substrate to a depth of 50 meters.

This will provide the survey group with an answer as to the geological state of the seabed, meaning where there are rocks, moraine, clay and sand, he said.

Drilling of the seabed aimed at building up a profile was also conducted Tuesday.

"We started exploring the wreck with a 3D sonar. We moved around the wreck, we had 16 points marked. Basically, we have now received a very detailed image of the wreck, and on Tuesday we began to examine the top of the wreck, meaning the deck house, the board of the wreck and the bottom of the wreck," Arikas continued. 

Investigator: When we find anything new, we will report it

A submarine robot is also to be used, he said, which together with the other equipment will help build up a more up-to-date 3D picture of the wreck.

"If we find anything, it will be documented and we can talk more about it," Arikas said.

The MS Estonia sank in the small hours of September 28, 1994, while en route from Tallinn to Stockholm. The sinking is the largest maritime disaster in peacetime in the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people from 17 countries, and second-largest peacetime maritime disaster ever, so far as European vessels go, after the Titanic.

This article was updated to include the gallery of the photos of the wreck.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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