Ten years after a tragedy that will never die

  • 2004-09-29
  • By TBT staff
TALLINN - The 10th anniversary of the Estonia ferry catastrophe 's the worst in European peacetime history 's was marked at the beginning of the week by concerts, memorial services and the opening of a new commemorative monument.

The monument was unveiled on Sept. 28 on one of the islands of the Turku archipelago in southwestern Finland, where rescue teams transported survivors of the ferry disaster 10 years ago.

As the week's events demonstrated, the tragedy, which took the lives of 852 people, continues to haunt the 137 survivors and relatives of those killed and to anger those still seeking justice. Last week, seven years after completion of the official investigation report, a group of Swedish MPs demanded a new one.

"We are not satisfied by the fact that the circumstances of the sinking are still unclear. It is unacceptable that more than half a thousand citizens can die without anybody being taken to justice 's anybody 's even for the smallest mistake," Swedish MP Lars Angstrom told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

The ro-ro passenger ferry MS Estonia sank in international waters on her way from Tallinn to Stockholm at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 28 in 1994. Eyewitness accounts attest to the suddenness of the sinking. The large vessel rolled onto its side in a matter of seconds, forcing passengers to form human chains that pulled people into the freezing night air.

In a country as small as Estonia, the tragedy's consequences had an enormous effect. The event marked the single largest loss of life for the nation since the Soviet-era deportations.

Although a number of conspiracy theories 's from a terrorist attack to a Russian submarine collision 's emerged in the aftermath, the main version of the tragedy points to a mechanical failure in the ship's bow ramp and bow visor.

The Estonia tragedy led to stricter life safety measures on ships of a similar type.

The ferry, formerly owned by Finnish operators, was built in Germany in 1980. The ship's building company formed a group of German experts to carry out an investigation of the tragedy. The experts concluded that, due to reckless operation and inspections, the vessel was not ready for the open sea on the evening of her last voyage.

Furthermore, the ship's bow visor and bow ramp were not watertight, causing a leak that allowed a tremendous amount of water into the ship's hull. As a result, the ship heeled heavily in the stormy sea and within one hour turned upside down.

The experts assume that the crew tried to prevent the ultimate tragedy by reducing speed and attempting to secure the bow ramp and the bow visor.

A court dispute between the organization of survivors and relatives of the perished Estonia passengers, the Jos L. Meyer shipyard, and the Veritas certification bureau was initiated in France in 1996 and continues to this day.