Expert: Estonia wreck dive equipment not up to the task

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Jaanus Rahumägi. Source: Karli Saul/EOK

Technology used in a recent wreck survey of the MS Estonia, aimed at shedding light on the nature of the 1994 disaster is not up to the task, one expert says.

Jaanus Rahumägi, a security specialist and former MP, whose field includes maritime piracy prevention, told daily Postimees late last week that: "According to the available public information and the images, the technology currently used for diving to the Estonia is not suitable for this purpose.

One of the key findings in the 10-day expedition, the first of its kind in many years and a preliminary to more extensive work to start next spring, revolves around the vessel's vehicle ramp, which was previously thought to have been in almost a fully-closed position, but now appears to be fully open and dislodged from its hinges.

Conclusions shouldn't be jumped to on this, Rahumägi said.

"The quality of the existing images is very poor and does not provide answers to experts too," he told the daily, quoted by BNS.

Rahumägi also said that the work has turned out to cost several times more than expected, while it is of more use to speculative inquirers and enthusiasts.

A fully-documented survey, using adequate equipment suited for the task and followed by an analysis and science-based evaluation, to be evaluated by experts, is required instead, he said.

Failure to do so could have undesirable consequences for the investigation and for Estonia's reputation internationally, he said. "The leveraging and production of speculation in a sensitive investigation could turn the final outcome of the investigation into a farce, which would be a reputational disaster for Estonia."

At the same time, Rahumägi said, a proper investigation including work on the chain of events regarding the ramp would not be difficult.

He said: "In order to get a fact-based scientific and technological explanation to the new information concerning the MS Estonia, it is necessary to explore the locations of the fracture of the ramp, its condition, and the current position of the ramp in relation to the hull of the ship".

"Take metal samples, if necessary. This has not been done so far," he added.

Either a human diver or a remote-operated submersible would be up to the task and the right equipment could also physically open up the ramp's structure, to build up a clearer picture, he said – adding that the length of time the wreck has been on the sea bottom means there are various factors which could have influenced the attitude of the ramp, and the wreck as a whole.

The recent investigation had primarily focused on building up a 3D image of the wreck, which lies deck-down in around 100 meters of water, south of the Turku archipelago.

It follows a 2020 documentary which contained footage of apparent, large ruptures in the wreck's hull.

The wreck's site is governed by an international agreement aimed at preserving it as a grave, meaning unauthorized diving or even approaching the zone is banned. The recent documentary footage was obtained in violation of this agreement; the documentary's maker, a Swedish national, was reportedly living in Oslo, Norway since working on the film, and may face a hefty fine or prison over the border in his native country.

Jaanus Rahumägi is a former Reform Party MP and is owner of security firm ESC Global Security. He also sits on the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK).

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: Andrew Whyte

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