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Estonia ferry sinks after collision with submarine?

Estonia, Sweden and Finland are examining new evidence that may shed light on the real cause of one of the biggest shipping disasters in Europe after World War II. It concerns the sinking of the ferry MS Estonia, which occurred on the night of 27-28 September 1994. 852 people died on board the vessel, which
Published: October 6, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 21:15
Estonia ferry sinks after collision with submarine?

Estonia, Sweden and Finland are examining new evidence that may shed light on the real cause of one of the biggest shipping disasters in Europe after World War II. It concerns the sinking of the ferry MS Estonia, which occurred on the night of 27-28 September 1994. 852 people died on board the vessel, which was sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm.

According to investigators, an international investigation completed in 1997 concluded that the cause was malfunctioning bow door locks that failed during a storm. However, recently recorded underwater footage shows that there is a four-metre hole in the hull of the wreck, which was unknown and therefore not previously considered as the cause of the sinking.

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Ferry Estonia on the roadstead in port divers24.pl
Estonia ferry before sinking photo by Li Samuelson/EPA

Representatives of all three countries involved in the disaster have said that they will study the new material and assess its evidential value. As a result, we may witness the rejection of the findings to date and the launch of a new and extremely thorough investigation.

The ferry Estonia was on a voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm when a huge tragedy struck, claiming the lives of 852 of the 989 people on board at the time. Most of them died trapped inside the ship after it capsized. 28 September 1994 went down in history as the most tragic day in the history of Baltic shipping after World War II.

Until recently, the cause of the tragedy was believed to be faulty bow door locks that failed during a storm and as a result, huge masses of water entered the ferry, destabilising the vessel, leading to its capsizing and subsequent sinking.

However, the findings and official reasons of the 1997 investigation have not convinced everyone. Both the survivors and the victims’ relatives have long been calling for a thorough investigation. All the more so, since the sinking of the ferry, various theories and speculations as to the actual cause of the catastrophe have continually surfaced.

The new underwater footage was captured for the Discovery Network, by a team of documentary filmmakers and journalists, and is featured in the five-part documentary Estonia: The Find That Changes Everything.

While shooting underwater using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the film crew discovered a large hole in the hull of the ship, which is not mentioned in the evidence from the investigation completed in 1997.

Margus Kurm, a former Estonian prosecutor and the investigator who led the 2007 investigation that cast doubt on the conclusions of the 1997 report, told local media that the ferry’s sinking could have been caused by a collision with a submarine and suggested that a Swedish-flagged submarine was in the area at the time.

A frame from a documentary shows a hole in the hull of a ship
A frame from a documentary shows a hole in the hull of a ship

The making of a documentary about those tragic events and the discovery of new and previously unknown evidence have revived calls for another investigation. This time, in addition to those directly involved in the tragedy, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas has also called for such action.

Last year, a group of more than 1,000 people, made up of surviving passengers and relatives of the victims, claimed €40.8 million in damages from the French agency that declared the ship seaworthy and the German shipbuilder. However, the lawsuit was rejected by a Paris court, which said that the plaintiffs had failed to prove “deliberate fault”.

It is highly probable that 26 years after the disaster, the investigation will be reopened and will take a direction not previously considered. There is also no denying that today, a thorough examination of the wreck and the collection of detailed photographic and video documentation will be much easier, and will allow the real causes of the sinking of the Estonia to be revealed.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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