Kurm: Ferry Estonia probe difficult due to wreck's shifting on seabed

Margus Kurm.
Margus Kurm. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The expedition to the ferry Estonia wreck discovered that two doors of the car deck meant for passengers were closed, whereas due to the movement of the hull on the seabed, it is more difficult than expected to examine the starboard side of the hull, expedition leader Margus Kurm said on Tuesday.

Offering an interim summary of the expedition to journalists, Kurm said that the SA Mare Liberum foundation-led expedition had four objectives: to scan the wreck, to video record the injuries to the wreck, to examine the car deck and to observe the seabed.  

The former state prosecutor said that approximately 25,000 photos were taken of the wreck, on the basis of which a 3D model of the wreck will be put together. The model will enable investigators to see the wreck as a whole and measure the size of the injuries. 

"The model will also reveal penetrating injuries," Kurm said. He added that some areas of the wreck have not been photographed, but these are not relevant when it comes to the disaster. According to Kurm, the 3D model will take three to four weeks to complete.

Kurm said that the robot managed to enter the car deck to a depth of up to 60 meters and reach the central section. It was discovered that two of the doors of the car deck, intended for passengers, were closed. When it comes to the lift door, one half of the door was in a closed position, whereas the other half had come off.

Kurm also pointed out that no signs of rupture under inward pressure were found on the doors. "The condition of the doors of the central section is important information for the investigation," he told reporters. 

The expedition leader said that the robot failed to reach the doors in the rear portion of the car deck, as this was prevented by poor visibility, car and truck wrecks, and cargoes that had become loose.

"The doors further towards the rear may be in a different condition," he said. Kurm added that the wreck of the Estonia is no longer at the same place on the seabed where it landed when it sank.

"The wreck has shifted southwards by about 10 meters," he said.

The expedition leader said that the wreck moved not due to natural reasons, but as a result of the preparatory work for covering the hull in concrete carried out in 1996. "It is more difficult to determine the causes of injuries to the wreck's starboard side than we thought a year ago," he said, adding that the wreck may have been damaged or deformed during the slip. 

Kurm said the next step should be to raise the ferry's ramp and also to bring up pieces of the damaged parts of the hull for subsequent examination. He also said that the wreck's sides should be cleaned of sand and mud to get a better view of the damaged areas.

MS Estonia wreck dive. Source: Estonia vraki kuues uuringupäev.

The privately funded investigative dive finished its work on September 30.

One of the investigation's finds has been mystery transmitter beacons, which the team say have been installed on the sea-bed and close to the wreck, and were likely the source of interference in equipment during an official dive in summer, but who placed them there, why and when remains unclear.

The site is protected by a grave peace agreement involving Estonia, Finland, Sweden and several other countries, but the legal status of conducting dives from vessels flying the flag of countries not party to the agreement, such as Malta, is not clear.

Kurm, a former state prosecutor, headed up an earlier, official investigation in the 2000s. A little over 40 people, including six media representatives, took place in the project. SA Mare Liberum was founded in July this year.

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. 137 people survived.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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