Memorial services planned for ferry disaster remembrance

  • 2009-09-23
  • By Ella Karapetyan

FINAL VOYAGE: Disaster struck as rough seas reportedly ripped open the cargo door, leading to the sinking of the ship.

TALLINN - In memory of the 15th anniversary of the 1994 Estonian passenger ferry disaster, which became a symbol for the young nation, the Memento Mare organization, which aims to unite the relatives of the passengers on the ferry, is going to carry out a remembrance ceremony on Sept. 27-28.

The ship's sinking in the Baltic sea on Sept. 28, 1994, claimed 852 lives and was one of the deadliest maritime disasters of the late 20th century. According to the trustee of the Memento Mare organization, Mjart Raudsepp, the events in memory of the disaster will take place on Sept. 27 in St. John's Church in Tallinn, where the Vox Clamantis ensemble and the St. Michael's Boy's Choir will perform. After the concert guests will place candles near the memorial dedicated to the victims of the ship's sinking.

The wreck was examined and videotaped by remotely-operated underwater vehicles and by divers from the Norwegian company Rockwater.
According to the official investigation and report, it was discovered that the locks on the bow door had failed and that the door had separated from the rest of the vessel. The report indicated that the bow visor and ramp had been torn off at points that would not trigger an 'open' or 'unlatched' warning on the bridge, as is the case in normal operation or failure of the latches.

There was no video monitoring of this portion of the vehicle bay. However, a video camera monitoring the inner ramp showed the water as it flooded the car deck. If the crew had known of the condition, it is likely that they would have slowed the ship, or even reversed its motion,
which might have prevented the swamping and sinking.
Recommendations for modifications to be applied to similar ships included the separation of the condition sensors from the latch and hinge mechanisms, and the addition of video monitoring.
There remain a few alternative theories on the sinking, such as the claim that the ship was involved in the secret transport of military equipment.

In the autumn of 2004, Swedish court investigator Johan Hirschfeldt claimed that the MS Estonia had been used to transport military equipment in September of that year. On Sept. 22, 2005, Estonian state prosecutor Margus Kurm announced that the investigation conducted by the Estonian authorities confirmed the fact that military equipment was aboard the ship on Sept. 14 and Sept. 20, 1994, though no such equipment was aboard the ship on the night of the disaster.

Stephen Davis, writing in the New Statesman in May, 2005, claimed that American adventurer Gregg Bemis and his crew, who dived to and filmed the wreck, recovered pieces of metal which in laboratory tests showed evidence of an explosion. Davis further claimed the ship was carrying a secret cargo of military equipment, smuggled from Russia by the British MI6 on behalf of the CIA, as part of ongoing efforts to monitor the development of Russia's weapons, and that this would explain Britain's signing of the Estonia Agreement.

German journalist Jutta Rabe also carried out her own investigations resulting in a book. The book was turned into the 2003 motion picture Baltic Storm, which portrays the Russian secret service as being responsible for the sinking, and the Swedish government's attempts to cover it up.

Rabe also claimed that the Swedish vice prime minister during the investigation, Odd Engstrom, died the day before he was to give an interview about the true background of the disaster. Citing the practical difficulties and the moral implications of raising decaying bodies from the sea floor (the majority of the bodies were never recovered), but also fearing the financial burden for the costs of lifting the entire hull to the surface and the salvage operation involved, the Swedish government suggested burying the whole ship, in situ, with a shell of concrete, which wasn't followed up on. This suggestion also led to speculation that the Swedish government wanted to cover up the evidence of wrong-doing, for good.