Expedition looks for evidence at MS Estonia wreck site

A privately-funded expedition has been paid for by relatives of those who died as a result of the sinking of the ferry Estonia. The expedition will look for clues into what was one of the worst peacetime tragedies at sea, when in September 1994 more than 850 of the 989 people on board died after the vessel sank suddenly.

Research vessel Sentinel left the Dutch port of Eemshaven on board at the weekend with 46 people on board. The vessel sank off the Finnish island of Uto.

Margus Kurm, manager of the SA Mare Liberum, an initiative founded by relatives of the wreck victims, said that “we have been preparing for the expedition for three months now and we remain optimistic. Our goal is to map all the damage suffered by the vessel, photograph and scan instances of such damage, as well as investigate the car deck and the surroundings of the wreck site”.

The sinking of the Estonia has remained mired in controversy, with many declining to accept the result of the official investigation into the tragedy.

On the night of September 27th 1994 the ro/pax ferry left Tallinn, heading on a scheduled trip to Stockholm. The weather was rough, with winds of up to 40 knots and waves of up to 20 feet. At about 00:55 the next morning, passengers heard a loud bang, and a quarter hour after that the vessel’s bow visor came loose.

That caused the vehicle decks to flood and the vessel to list rapidly to starboard, reaching 60 degrees within 15 minutes. Because of the heavy list it was impossible to launch the lifeboats, and passengers on the boat deck began to abandon ship into the water. At 01:50, the vessel sank.

While hundreds of people managed to abandon ship, they were in rough and cold seas until rescuers could arrive. Only 137 out of the 989 people on board survived.

During the expedition the divers plan to conduct underwater research in order to investigate the shipwreck on the sea bottom. All evidence will be analyzed by Dr Andrzej Jasionowski, a forensic naval architect specializing in damaged vessel hydrodynamics and simulation.

The expedition is privately funded from donations at a cost of $930,000. The research vessel has been chartered from the German company RS Offshore, and comes equipped with four underwater robots.