Expert: Human intervention not likely cause of Estonia bow ramp shift

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Imaging of the Estonia wreck taken on July 15 2021. Source: Madis Veltman/Postimees

Changes to the configuration of the wreck of the MS Estonia revealed in a recent dive and survey are likely not the result of human activity, one expert says, but could be the result of a range of factors, including corrosion, marine life activity and the flow of water.

Tarmo Soomere, President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia), told ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Monday that: "Hulls tend to fall apart in such situations. We don't know what to give first, what the primary cause was we don't know, since we don't know what the original damage is," Soomere said.

As to whether the attitude of the Estonia's bow vehicle ramp – previously thought to have been in a "closed" position but, according to a recent survey, now lying fully open – was the work of human effort, Soomere, who has also been linked in media reports with a bid as a candidate at this autumn's presidential elections, said this was not a matter of faith but rather of establishing facts.

Nonetheless, the most likely explanation is the marine environment the wreck has been lying in for the past 27 years.

He said: "When metal enters a marine environment, especially metal joined together by welded connections, it tends to rust, while we also have bacteria in the sea which can eat iron".

"Plus if there are already some damaged areas that the layer of paint can't protect, the metal tends to give out quite quickly. It 's little wonder that in twenty-five-plus years, a hinge or connection has rusted, and the ramp has fallen off," he went on.

A recent 10-day sanctioned expedition to survey the wreck, which lies in about 100 meters of water south of the Turku archipelago, was the first of its kind for several years. The survey revealed the vehicle ramp in the "open" or "down" position, resting against the hull.

The official explanation of the 1994 disaster is that a sheared-off bow visor door allowed water to enter, during heavy seas, rapidly compromising the ferry's buoyancy integrity.

"Further more, the seabed is not such a quiet grave, in general. In the spot where the Estonia is currently lying, model calculations show that water speeds of up to one meter per second are possible, about once every ten years. Such speeds can shake a ship lying on relatively uneven ground. We already know that the ship 's position has changed over the years," Soomere added.

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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