The private MS Estonia investigation team plans to survey damage to the wreck and film and scan nearby items. In addition to recording the interior of the car deck, the team is considering removing soil, taking samples and bringing certain objects to the surface.
The private expedition headed by [former prosecutor] Margus Kurm will embark for the site of the MS Estonia shipwreck later this week.
Kurm, who will be accompanying the team, told ERR that their aim is to map, film and scan all damage to the wreck.
"We will be surveying the car deck using an underwater robot and looking at items in the vicinity of the wreck as far as is safely possible," Kurm said of the team's plans.
While there are no plans for bringing items to the surface, Kurm said the team has necessary capacity.
"Should we find the Atlantic lock securing bolt the initial investigative committee threw back, we will definitely bring it to the surface," Kurm promised.
The so-called Atlantic lock with which the bow visor was attached to the ferry was raised to the surface during the investigation into the causes of the disaster in the 1990s but was eventually thrown back into the sea because of its size and weight.
"I have thought about handing the lock over to the Maritime Museum should we find it," Kurm said when asked what plans the team has for items recovered.
Kurm said he considers it important for the recovered items to be made available to everyone and could be studied more closely. He added, however, that he does not consider it likely the expedition will find the Atlantic lock.
Shifting soil could prove necessary
Kurm admitted that shifting of soil could prove necessary to better access damaged parts of the wreck, adding that this only concerns soil added in 1996 in an attempt to cover the ferry.
"As concerns the soil beneath the ferry, we are not planning to carry out drilling work," he stressed. "Soil studies will be mostly visual, at most, our divers will be able to get a feel for whether it is clay or rock."
Kurm said that small soil samples of sand or gravel could be collected.
MS Estonia wreck abandoned property
The expedition lead is convinced that the team shares the state's goal of determining why the ferry sank. That is why Kurm believes Estonia will not launch a criminal investigation into the expedition.
"To the best of my knowledge, we are talking about abandoned property," he said of the wreck. "No one has claimed it as theirs – neither the Estonian state nor the shipper. Tallink has attempted not to associate itself with the disaster."
Kurm said that divers are aware of legal risks and prepared to take them. He added that the team will consider how to solve a particular situation should a country initiate a criminal investigation.
"We will do everything we can to help them should criminal proceedings be brought against members of the team, adding that no legal preparations have been made.
Possibility of law enforcement involvement
Kurm holds efforts to disrupt the expedition unlikely but admits it is not impossible, in which case no surveys can be carried out.
The Finnish coast guard could be guarding the wreck that is located in Finland's exclusive economic zone in international waters. Therefore, it is possible another vessel could stop Kurm's expedition from diving to the wreck.
"Should it prove impossible to convince these vessels to leave the area, it will mean a government-level decision to obstruct our efforts has been made," Kurm said, adding that the team will have no choice but the accept that reality in that case.
He said, however, that the team would engage in negotiations and wait for further developments should something like that occur.
"As we see it, obstructing underwater work in international waters is contrary to international maritime law," he said. "Especially when vessels from countries that have not joined the sanctity of the grave site agreement are carrying out the work."
Kurm said that the team will attempt to diffuse attempts to obstruct the expedition through negotiation and clarification of maritime law.
"We will definitely not cause a conflict or try to make our way to the site by force," he said. "We will not be engaging law enforcement or military vessels. If we are physically kept from working, we will have no chance but to back down and leave."
Editor: Marcus Turovski