French court rejects 1994 ferry disaster compensation claim

Image: BBC

A court in Paris has rejected a claim for compensation by the survivors and relatives of the victims of a highly publicised sinking of a passenger vessel in 1994.

In a ruling issued on Friday, July 19, the Nanterre court said that the claimants, which numbered over 1,000, had failed to prove “the existence of a gross or intentional fault” on the part of French certification agency Bureau Veritas and German shipbuilder Meyer Werft for the sinking of the Ro-Pax ferry Estonia.

The claimants had earlier requested damages totaling €40.8 million (US$45.8 million) from the two organisations for their alleged failure to guarantee the vessel’s seaworthiness.

A lawyer representing the victims’ relatives called the verdict “a big disappointment” but added that his clients were not surprised by it.

The case against Bureau Veritas and Meyer Werft was originally filed in 1996. However, the hearings in the decades that followed encountered numerous delays in court.

Estonia sank in rough weather in the Baltic Sea on September 28, 1994. Out of a total of 989 passengers and crew, 852 lives were lost in the second-deadliest sinking of a European vessel in peacetime after RMS Titanic in 1912.

An official incident report released in 1997 said that strong waves had caused the bow door locking system on Estonia to malfunction. This then resulted in water ingress into the vehicle deck through the bow ramp, which has since been attributed as the main cause of the sinking.


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