TALLINN - The Swedish government last week commissioned an investigation to determine whether the Estonia ferry was transporting any military cargo on the eve of the 1994 tragedy that took the lives of hundreds of people.
The commission was also charged with determining if it had been legal to use a civilian ship for transporting military cargo, what exactly the Swedish military had shipped from Estonia to Sweden, and if the ferry had any explosives on board on her last voyage.
The commission will have to present its findings by Jan. 21, 2005.
New circumstances related to the Estonia ferry became public on Nov. 25 when a retired customs official told the Swedish television SVT's "Uppdrag Granskning" program that the ferry might have been used for transferring military electronic equipment from Estonia to Sweden.
The retired official, Lennart Henriksson, said that in autumn 1994, two weeks before the ferry disaster, he received an order from his superiors not to inspect one vehicle on board the ferry coming from Tallinn to Stockholm. The official had a look at the car and saw devices resembling military electronic equipment of Russian design.
Henriksson told the SVT that the second order of the same kind came on Sept. 20, 1994, eight days before the tragedy.
Swedish military and customs officials confirmed that certain equipment had been purchased from Russian troops in Estonia and brought into Sweden via the Estonia ferry in 1994.
Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson stated that the new evidence came to the current government as a complete surprise, and he immediately ordered an investigation.
Estonian military experts told the Postimees daily that Russian troops, shortly before leaving the country, were willing to earn money by selling military equipment, weapons and ammunition to everyone who had the cash.
The last Russian army units left Estonia at the end of August 1994.
An expert group sponsored by the shipbuilder previously discovered that the Estonia ferry had been not seaworthy on the night of her last voyage because of reckless operations.
Since 1996, tragedy victim's relatives have been involved in a court dispute with the shipyard.
Over 850 passenger died as the Estonia ferry sank during its Tallinn-Stockholm route in September 1994.