Lawyer: Grave peace agreement does not forbid investigation of Estonia shipwreck

  • 2020-02-14
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Piret Blankin, the lawyer representing the next-of-kin of the victims of the Estonia ferry disaster, said that the objective of the peace of the grave agreement is to protect the vessel from pillaging, but it does not forbid investigation of the shipwreck by the state, the daily Postimees writes.

Speaking on the "Otse Postimehest" ("Live from Postimees") webcast of Postimees, Blankin said that it is one important human right to find out the reason why someone's loved one has died. "It is just like asking why we are investigating a murder because it does not bring people back. Relatives have the right to demand an investigation, and the state has a duty to investigate. The hull has not been captured. If the immediate subject is unexplored, no firm conclusions can be drawn as to the cause of the disaster. In 2009, a panel of experts led by Margus Kurm concluded that other scenarios could not be overridden by existing studies -- that the wreck needed to be explored and new studies had to be conducted," Blankin said.

According to Blankin, the peace of the grave agreement does not interfere with additional investigation. "In fact, this agreement is very short, anyone can find it, it was even published in the State Gazette in 1995. There are basically only a couple of points in the agreement and it says three things. First of all, indeed, that the three countries have agreed not to raise the wreck up. There's no more reasoning, just one specific paragraph," she said.

"Secondly, the location of the wreck, the place of Estonia's sinking, must be properly respected. Third, the parties to the agreement must lay down rules in their laws in the event that someone dives down for the purpose of looting the wreck, in which case they should be punished. The peace of the grave agreement does not prevent us from identifying the state of the wreck and the cause of the sinking," Blankin said. 

The ferry Estonia with 989 people on board sank in a storm while en route from Tallinn to Stockholm on the night of Sept. 28, 1994. Of the people on board the vessel, 137 were saved and 852 perished. The bodies of only 95 of the victims were recovered. 

The disaster was investigated by a joint committee of the governments of Estonia, Finland and Sweden in 1994-1997 and by a government committee led by the Office of the Prosecutor General in 2005-2009. In 1995, Estonia, Finland and Sweden entered into a peace of the grave agreement, which forbids diving down to the shipwreck.