New probe into 1994 sinking of the Estonia reveals construction flaws

Officials have said that a new investigation into the sinking of the ferry Estonia in the Baltic Sea in 1994, which claimed 852 lives, had revealed flaws in its bow visor construction that had been missed during its certification.

They said that if the examination had been carried out the Estonia-registered ship would not have been approved as seaworthy for the Tallin-Stockholm route.

The Estonia was sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm with 803 passengers and 186 crew on board when it sank in stormy weather shortly after midnight on September 28th 1994.

Investigators from Estonia, Finland and Sweden revealed the findings at a news conference in Tallinn.

An official investigation in 1997 concluded that the roll-on, roll-off ferry sank on a stormy Baltic Sea after a bow shield failed, damaging a bow ramp and causing the car deck to flood.

It was a documentary on the Discovery Network in 2020 that showed underwater images of holes in the Estonia’s hull. This prompted Sweden, Estonia and Finland to launch a new survey of the wreck, which was lying in shallow Finnish territorial waters.

The investigators stated that “if the inspection, following regulations, had been carried out, the flaws of the visor construction could have been discovered and the accident would probably not have occurred”.

Rene Arikas, Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau director, said that the holes discovered in the hull were probably caused by the impact on the vessel on the sea bottom, rather than being a cause of the sinking.

Risto Haimila, chief marine safety investigator at the Finnish Safety Investigation Authority, said that “we do know that when she sank, she didn’t have bow visor, she didn’t have the ramp. But so far we have not found any damages (to the hull before sinking) other than that in the bow area”

The final results of the new investigation have yet to be published. The investigators first plan to raise the Estonia’s bow ramp to examine the damage, take samples from the hull area, survey the inside of the ship, and conduct interviews with the survivors.

Although there was widespread speculation about the causes of the sinking, so far the latest investigation has not found any evidence of an explosion in the bow area or a collision with another vessel or a floating object.