Swedish authorities issue preliminary assessment of 1994 ferry tragedy

Rendering of Estonia's wreckage at the bottom of the Baltic Sea based on photogrammetric data (Photo: Stockholm University)

The Swedish Accident Investigation Authority (Statens Haverikommission; SHK) has published an intermediate report that describes the surveys that have been carried out so far on the wreck site of the sunken Ro-Pax ferry Estonia in the Baltic Sea as well as the preliminary conclusions that can be drawn from the surveys.

In 2021, surveys of the sea bottom around Estonia were carried out. The SHK said those surveys indicate that there is a hard ridge, probably consisting of granite, that runs perpendicular to and below the ship approximately amidships.

In 2022, surveys were carried out to document the ship and the damage found on the hull photographically. The photo documentation resulted in approximately 45,000 photographs, which are currently being assembled into a 3D model using photogrammetry.

The SHK expects the result of the 3D modelling work will be published at the end of January 2023.

Estonia was lost along with over 800 passengers and crew on September 28, 1994, in what has been described as one of the deadliest maritime incidents of the late 20th century.

The course of the SHK’s preliminary assessment published on Monday, January 23, has allowed the reaching of the following preliminary conclusions:

  • The wreck is in poor condition with severe structural damage.
  • The location of the outcropping bedrock under the hull matches the location of the deformation on the hull.
  • Based on the evidence gathered so far, there is no indication of a collision with a vessel or a floating object.
  • The evidence also suggests there is no indication of an explosion in the bow area.
  • Estonia‘s seaworthiness was re-assessed by SHK and the Estonian Safety Investigation
    Bureau (Ohutusjuurdluse Keskus; OJK), based on the Joint Accident Investigation Commission (JAIC) report, concluding that the vessel was not seaworthy.

The SHK added that an inspection of the bow parts was not performed. The related certificate should not have been issued unless such an inspection had been carried out, which means that Estonia was not seaworthy.

The SHK said that ef such an inspection, following regulations, had been carried out, the flaws of the
visor construction could have been discovered, and the accident would probably not have occurred.

The location of the bow ramp as the upper extension of the collision bulkhead was based on a practical decision for an exemption from the regulations, the report continued. Such an exemption entails a condition, which must be recorded in certificates but was not, and so Estonia was not seaworthy and the certificate was incorrect.

The SHK said that if the condition had been noted in the relevant certificate, the vessel would not have been trading the Tallinn–Stockholm route.

The SHK also said the current preliminary assessment continues.

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