Research vessel the Viking Reach arrived at the wreck site of the MS Estonia ferry shortly after midnight Thursday and, following a brief minute's silence out of respect for the dead, its crew started work right away.
ERR journalist Dmitri Fedotkin, on board the Viking Reach, reported that: "The vessel arrived at the Estonia wreck site at around half-past midnight Thursday morning, Estonian time.
"Once we had arrived and halted, the vessel gave one long blast of its horn, followed by a minute of silence on board. This moment of silence was ended with two longer soundings of the horn, after which the work got underway," Fedotkin went on.
The Viking Reach, sailing under the Norwegian flag, left the port of Karlskrona, Sweden, on Tuesday. The research team on board planned to start work immediately upon arrival, even as that arrival ended up being in the middle of the night (see gallery above).
Tauri Roosipuu, lead expert at the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau (OJK), told ERR on Wednesday that the work is to be carried out in shifts, around the clock.
The work is being carried out jointly by the OJK and its Swedish counterpart, the SHK, in cooperation with Finnish authorities.
The contract partner for marine works is Norwegian firm Reach Subsea AS, and
The entire work will last seven to eight days, depending on weather conditions, and including sailing time.
Underwater dive robots are being deployed; no human divers are taking part in the work.
The plan is to take samples of the bedrock in the vicinity of the wreck, lying in around 100m of water, from the damage incurred on the starboard side,
An overlap sample will also be taken from the surface of the hull, while cutouts of the hull plating on the port side are to be brought to the surface.
The bow ramp will also be brought up from the seabed., and the vehicle deck will be filmed. Water entering into the vehicle deck via the bow ramp and following a compromise of the bow visor's integrity, is the most commonly-held view of the cause of the September 1994 disaster, which led to the loss of 852 lives.
On October 2, 2020, the OJK initiated a preliminary assessment based on the video footage published by Monster Media Group Limited the previous month, which revealed a significant hole on the Estonia's starboard side.
This find prompted speculation as to the real causes of the disaster, and whether this rupture occurred at the time of the sinking, or when the stricken vessel hit the seabed, or later.
The OJK appealed for help from the SHK and from the Finnish equivalent, the SIAF, in order to make a preliminary assessment.
Research conducted in 2021 revealed that the bow ramp is no longer attached to the ship's hull, making it possible to bring the ramp up from the seabed separately, as planned for the current, ongoing project.
The MS Estonia sank in heavy seas south of the Turku archipelago, in the small hours of September 28, 1994. Of the 989 people on board at the time, only 137 survived.
The wreck site has been protected under international law since then.
Two separate dives took place in summer-fall 2021, following the documentary whose footage had been obtained illegally the year before but nonetheless aired on the Discovery channel. This was the footage which revealed the large gash in the Estonia's hull, among other new details.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots