U.S. millionaire to investigate Estonia ferry disaster site

  • 2000-08-03
TALLINN - Gregg Bemis, a 72 year-old American businessman, politician and diving expert is planning an expedition to the remains of the Estonia ferry sunk 40 km off the Finnish island of Uto on Sept. 28, 1994. The expedition will take place in about two weeks, Bemis told the news program "Aktuell," on the state Swedish TV channel, on July 30.

Bemis' project is facing a negative reaction from the governments of the Baltic states. Sweden's deputy trade and industry minister Mona Sahlin asked Bemis to give up his plan, calling to his attention the agreement signed by Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and four other countries that declares the site a sanctuary.

The Estonian government, according to BNS, is agreeing with its Swedish colleagues, although it has not discussed the expedition.

None of the countries has yet said they are ready to foil Bemis' project. A year ago, the expedition to the Estonia ferry undertaken by a German TV channel faced so much opposition that it finally abandoned the dive.

Bemis told the American newspaper Albuquerque Journal that the shipwreck was in international waters. He claimed the agreement does not apply to him as an American citizen.

The diver-millionaire plans to photograph the remains of Estonia ferry and make a film about the expedition.

"I don't have any intention of disturbing the bodies. Uncovering the real cause of the disaster will help improve public safety," Bemis told the paper.

Memento Mare, the organization unifying the relatives of Estonia ferry's victims, will discuss the expedition the first week of August.

Supporters of the expedition have collected more than 400 signatures in support of Bemis' project.

Bemis is the owner of the remnants of the Lusitania liner, destroyed by a German submarine in Irish territorial waters in 1915. Bemis' team has made several dives there during recent months, according to the Albuquerque Journal report.

Sergei Ovchinnikov, director of the diving company Nescosub Ltd., said the expedition planned by Bemis requires special equipment unavailable in Estonia.

"At least five men are needed for the dive: three divers and two supporting personnel," Ovchinnikov said. Ovchinnikov found it difficult to estimate the expenses: "It depends upon the goals of the expedition."

Bemis himself refused to reveal the sources of financing to the media. He is the president of Deep Ocean Engineering, a company that produces robot cameras, submarine manipulators and other diving equipment.

The Estonian daily Postimees suggested that Bemis is using the expedition to raise his rating before the general election in his home state of New Mexico in November. Bemis twice ran unsuccessfully for New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District seat.