Passenger ferry MS Estonia did not sink as a result of colliding with another vessel, with holes and deformation of the hull probably the result of the wreck scraping on the seabed, the interim report of the MS Estonia investigation reveals. The investigation also found that as the ship's bow section construction was not up to scratch, the ferry was not seaworthy.
"Until now, we have not found anything to considerably alter the joint committee's (JAIC) technical conclusions and as concerns the causes of the accident from its 1997 report," the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau and its Swedish counterpart said in a joint report published on Monday.
The wreck of MS Estonia is in a very poor state and shows serious damage. That said, the granite surface relief of the seabed at the site corresponds with hull deformation, Rene Arikas, head of the Estonian safety investigation watchdog, said during a press conference on Monday. There is similarly no data to suggest the ferry sank as a result of colliding with another vessel or that an explosion occurred in its bow section.
Geology of the seabed in line with hull damage
The geological and geophysical assessment was carried out by Martin Jakobsson, professor of marine geology and geophysics at Stockholm University, who demonstrated how the contour of the seabed corresponds to damage on the starboard side of the hull.
Jakobsson said that the middle section of the hull rests on a rocky surface, with different parts of the hull not equally supported. He added that he only looked at the geology of the seabed and has not assessed whether the cracks and holes in the hull were caused by its movement.
The latter was suggested by Jonas Bäckstrand, deputy head of the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority. He described creating a 3D model of the hull using 45,000 photographs and the location of holes in the hull.
"The model shows damage on the starboard side and the seabed. The modelling suggests that the seabed corresponds to hull damage," Bäckstrand said. He suggested that the distance between the two holes in the hull is 22 meters, which matches the shape of the seafloor.
"We have not yet concluded our work, but it seems that the damage has been caused by contact with the bottom," he said. The expert said it is also possible the impact caused MS Estonia's deck to be deformed.
Ferry was not seaworthy
Rene Arikas pointed out that the bow section of passenger ferry MS Estonia was not inspected prior to the vessel being issued its seaworthiness certificate, and that had an inspection taken place, the ferry would not have qualified for the certificate as the bow ramp construction was faulty. The ramp should have been positioned differently, he said.
"We concluded that the vessel was not seaworthy, the certificate had not been issued based on correct grounds and it should not have been ferrying passengers between Tallinn and Stockholm," Arikas remarked.
The head of the safety investigation authority said that the investigation should continue to get a full picture of the tragedy, including by interviewing survivors.
The preliminary assessment's interim report can be found in full at the link.
Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski