Preliminary survey reveals significant damage to ferry Estonia wreck

Images from the Estonia Ferry investigation on July 15.
Images from the Estonia Ferry investigation on July 15. Source: Madis Veltman/Postimees

A preliminary survey of the wreck of the passenger ferry Estonia, which ended on the night between Thursday and Friday, showed that the wreck is significantly damaged in several places, while the nature of the damage to the hull is similar to the geometry of the seabed.

Rene Arikas, head of the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau, said that on July 14 surveys with an underwater robot were started at the bow of the vessel on the starboard side, and the bottom and stern of the vessel were also surveyed. In addition to the seabed survey carried out earlier, a geophysical survey was carried out to understand where there might have been a granite layer and whether there were any outcrops. 

"We finished taking bore samples from the seabed. On July 15, we continued the survey with the submarine robot, focusing on the deckhouse, a portion of the port side bilge keel, and measured the damage to starboard. It is at least 22 meters long and four meters high. The exact extent of the damage is not known as it lies below the hull. There are tear ruptures and extensive deformation of the shell plating and internal structure," Arikas said. 

Arikas said that it's possible to see the inside of the ship through the openings in the hull.

"We saw some cars on the car deck," he said.

The damage, Arikas said, has been caused by an irregular external body. What is believed to be a granite outcrop lies opposite the damaged area, and observation of the damage suggests that it matches the geometry of the outcrop.

It was also established that a small piece of starboard remains attached to a bow ramp hinge of the starboard side, and a piece of the right inner corner of the bow ramp is missing. 

"We identified various damage to the structure of the bow ramp, mostly in the central part of the ramp. We identified a minor crack in front of the bow thrust unit," Arikas said. 

At least two shorter cracks were detected at the top of the seventh deck, above which the shell plating of the deckhouse is bent outwards.  A relocation of at least one support post was detected on the sixth level of the stern deck on the port side. Deformation of ceiling beams can also be seen in the stern part of the sixth deck.

The shell plating of the fifth deck in the stern part of the ship is largely torn apart. Most of the seventh and eighth decks could not be examined with the submarine robot, as there are different hanging ends and other elements dangerous for the submarine robot in those areas. 

"We also identified various objects on the seabed around the ship, which are probably from the Estonia," Arikas added.

The preliminary survey was finished on the night between Thursday and Friday. However, interfering signals caused trouble throughout the survey, as they prevented a normal view of the survey area.

"Sonar visibility was limited to 20 meters," Arikas said, confirming, however, that all planned activities were nevertheless completed. 

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.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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