Watch: Estonia wreck dive robot cuts out steel hull samples

Photo: Dmitri Fedotkin/ERR

A team investigating the wreck of the MS Estonia has released a video showing how samples of steel plating were cut out of the ship's hull Friday, on day two of a week-long expedition.

The Estonia sank in heavy seas in the small hours of September 28, 1994, with the loss of 852 lives.

While dives took place at the wreck site both in the aftermath of the disaster, and in recent years, the current investigation – jointly led by Estonian and Swedish safety authorities – is the first official dive since a substantial gash was found in the ferry's starboard hull, casting doubt on the official cause of the sinking.

Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau (OJK) expert Tauri Roosipuu told ERR that a dive robot had been able to cut a sample of hull plating from the starboard side, using a circular saw-like arrangement (see video).

Roosipuu told ERR that this aspect of the investigation had not in fact been included in the project tender, due to a lack of knowledge about how feasible the task would be.

"Following some good cooperation with the marine works project team, we actually found an opportunity to take this sample, which is certainly a very important piece of evidence in determining the cause of the 'new' damage," Roosipuu said.

A dive robot had also been able to take a bedrock sample on Thursday – matching this to the hull plating sample may help ascertain if the around 40m rupture in question was caused when the stricken vessel hit the seabed, or whether it had been caused subsequently, or even prior to that event.

Hitherto a sheared-off bow visor allowing seawater to gush around the bow vehicle ramp into the ship's car deck, thus compromising its buoyancy, has been the accepted theory on what caused the sinking.

Roosipuu added that a video survey of said vehicle deck, and the raising of the bow ramp from the seabed – this has now detached from the rest of the wreck – lies in the future.

"So far, all the work has gone according to plan and we have completed more than was provided for in the initial plan provided," he went on.

Additionally, hull plating which had been cut out by authorized human divers in the aftermath of the sinking, in order to gain access to the wreck interior, was raised early Friday morning.

The current investigation makes use of dive robots only; human divers are not being deployed, while advances in tech over the past 29 years can also be taken advantage of.

More time-consuming work is still to come, Roosipuu added.

The research vessel, the Viking Reach, left Karlskrona, Sweden, Tuesday, arriving at the wreck site – South of the Turku archipelago – just after midnight Thursday.

After a brief moment of silence by way of commemoration, work started immediately, and has continued round-the-clock, on a shift basis.

On board are two survivors of the disaster, one from Sweden and one from Estonia.

The OJK is undertaking the work with its Swedish counterpart, the SHK, and in cooperation with Finnish authorities.

The location is a grave site protected under an international agreement, though it was video footage obtained in violation of this agreement by a Swedish film crew making a documentary for the Discovery Channel, aired in 2021, which first revealed the substantial gash in the hull's side, which prompted renewed, official interest in the vessel's ultimate fate.

Norwegian private sector firm Reach Subsea AS won the contract for the work, and the Viking Reach also sails under the Norwegian flag.

The MS Estonia sank in heavy seas shortly before 2 a.m. on September 28, 1994, around half-an-hour after the alarm was initially raised. Of the 989 people on board the ship at the time, only 137 survived, making it the single deadliest peacetime sinking of a European passenger ship, after the Titanic.

The latest video of the ongoing dive expedition can be viewed by clicking the player up top.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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