A dive investigation of the MS Estonia wreck, backed by daily Postimees, has been announced. The dive will last two weeks and cost an estimated €800,000. Margus Kurm, a former investigator into the 1994 sinking, heads up the project, which also has the support of victims' relatives associations in both Estonia and Sweden.
The project rivals an official dive organized by Estonian and Swedish authorities set for next year and whose preliminary work was carried out in summer.
Kurm, a former lead investigator into the 1994 disaster, says that he has no confidence in that investigation, or its outcome.
Backed by financiers in the two countries, via the Mare Liberum organization, the largest single contributor is media conglomerate Postimees Grupp, Kurm said.
Postimees Grupp spokesperson Jüri Pihel denied that the planned dive was commercial grandstanding by the media firm.
Pihel said: "This is, unequivocally, a project involving the organizations representing the next-of-kin, of Kurm, and of the scientists," adding that financial gain is not the aim of Postimees' involvement.
Providing adequate media coverage and a transparent financing model was the main motivation, Pihel went on. "Any media organization in the world that acquires the materials we produce will pay a certain amount of money, and this goes into funding the expedition."
While a recent preliminary expedition organized by Swedish and Estonian authorities in July will be followed up by lengthier work next year, Raivo Hellerma, MTÜ Memento Mare chair, said the new project is happening because: "It's now or never."
MTÜ Memento Mare is a support group in Estonia representing victims' families.
Hellerma said the project was not based on a desire to either point the finger or to reconfirm existing theories, but, he hoped, will be a unique opportunity to find answers to at least some of the outstanding questions.
From the Swedish side, Lennart Berglund, head of SEA, an organization which represents victims' families in that country, told Postimees all previous research seems to have been done to specifically to conceal the real cause of the disaster.
Berglund said: "This inquiry is very important for us to find the real reason why the Estonia sank."
Postimees called the project and its objectives "ambitious", with the budget to match.
Kurm said: "At the moment, we have estimated the cost of the entire project to be about €800,000, of which €500,000-600,000 will be spent on the diving," adding that the figures may be revised depending on how much time is needed for the dives.
Vessel and equipment rental is by the day, while expert surveys may incur additional costs, the organizers say.
SEA, the Swedish relatives' representative group, is a co-financer. SEA's largest donor is investment firm M.G.A Holding AB, BNS reports.
Kurm, who recently said that one viable theory as to the cause of the sinking was a collision with a Swedish submarine, said setting up an independent inquiry had been on his mind for a long time, while a suitable team to carry this out only materialized in the summer.
Not only were unanswered questions a motivation; Kurm said he did not trust the official Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau (OJK) conducting the ongoing dive, which started in summer.
"If I'm honest, I don't trust them of course," Kurm said, without providing concrete reasons for his lack of trust.
"But maybe they are good people and are doing the right thing," he added.
As with the official investigation, state-of-the-art tech not available in the past will be used, including dive robots, sonars, a magnetometer, all rented from German company RS Offshore, Kurm added, while human divers will be used where needed – four freelance divers plus their support team have been hired for this purpose, he said.
Polish expert Andrzej Jasionowski is to analyze the results of the dives, in conjunction with previously obtained data.
Singapore resident Jasionowski has worked on MS Estonia-related topics in the past, including a stint in 2005 where he was hired by the Swedish government.
That study came up with the same conclusion on the causes of the disaster as the official one – the shearing off of the bow visor in heavy seas, which allowed water to flow into the vehicle decks.
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.
Margus Kurm is former state prosecutor and head of the inquiry committee which examined claims that the MS Estonia had been carrying sensitive military equipment when she sank.
The date of the proposed new dive was not announced. Diving generally does not take place in the winter months.
The wreck site is a protected grave and special permission is required to dive.
Editor: Andrew Whyte