Victims' families demand fresh investigation into ferry disaster

  • 2006-05-17
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - Families of the victims of the 1994 Estonia ferry disaster have demanded the wreck be made available for a fresh investigation despite an agreement not to disturb the underwater burial site. In a letter from several victims' organizations in Estonia and Sweden, signatories requested that all international agreements to leave the wreckage in peace be annulled.

Victims' families believe that fresh evidence could provide clearer insight into the disaster, which claimed more than 800 lives.
Despite several investigations, both by governments and private groups, questions still remain about the cause of the disaster, for which no-one has been held accountable.
Scrutiny over the ferry wreck has been impossible because of international treaties to leave the site untouched. Countries that ratified the agreement 's Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and Great Britain among them 's were presented with copies of the letter.

In their letter dated May 8, the five organizations demanded that a panel of independent experts be given the power to launch a new public investigation.
"The only means of getting undisputed information vital for answering the question 's why did she sink 's is thereby excluded," the letter read.
"Considering that the bottom part of MS Estonia's hull was never fully examined, such information is essential."
The document sought to "amend, modify, recall, revoke or suspend all administrative measures prohibiting inspection of the wreck" and "have an independent group of experts, working in a transparent manner, to make a new investigation of the sinking."

The Estonia sank off the coast of Sweden on Sept. 28, 1994 during an overnight voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm.
Since then, there has been much debate over inspecting the wreckage, which remains a gravesite for hundreds of bodies.
But the Tallinn-based support group Memento Mare said such considerations were secondary in the search for the truth. "It's an inevitable part of this, but you have to make some choices. For us, the information is more important," said Memento Mare chairman Raivo Hellerman, who lost his wife in the tragedy.
Memento Mare was not among the signatories to the letter. Hellerman said his group was not approached but would have gladly offered their support if asked.

"We have a similar position. We agree this is the only way to get some final information," he said.
Anders Bjorkman, maritime engineer and author of four books on the topic, labeled the original report a "whitewash."
"The victims have not been told the truth. New information has come up that must be investigated," said Bjorkman, an outspoken critic of the investigation process.
In particular, sceptics point to recent testimony given by a former Swedish military official, who said the Estonia had transported military hardware during one of its previous voyages. The information was confirmed by Swedish authorities.
He said victims were right to also petition the governments of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Denmark, Russia and Great Britain, which had no involvement or connection to the disaster, but are party to agreements to keep the shipwreck site untouched.

"These countries have nothing to do with this ship, so why are they forbidding a proper investigation?" Bjorkman asked.
Drew Wilson, author of the recently-released book "The Hole," said his three years of investigating the disaster revealed more questions than answers.
"I support the victims... Sweden has lobbied other countries to keep this site untouched. They have something to hide, that's for sure," Wilson said.
Further questions will be raised in September when Estonian state prosecutor Margus Kurm is due to release his final report on the sinking.

In 1995, Kurm released a damning preliminary report, which criticised the veracity of the original investigation.
His office declined to comment on the latest development, and said it would answer questions after the release of his final report in September.