23 January 2023

New 1994 ferry disaster report finds there was no collision and no explosion

23 January 2023

There is no indication that either a collision or an explosion caused the 1994 sinking of a ferry in the Baltic Sea in one of Europe’s deadliest peacetime maritime disasters, the accident investigation boards of Estonia, Finland and Sweden said.

According to the preliminary report into the M/S Estonia disaster in which more than 850 people died, “there is no indication of a collision with a vessel or a floating object nor is there any indication of an explosion in the bow area”.

The new report did not provide any fresh evidence to contradict the results of the official accident investigation probe in 1997.

The M/S Estonia sank in heavy seas on September 28 1994, killing 852 people, most of them Swedes and Estonians.

The ferry was on its way from Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, to Stockholm when it sank about 30 minutes after an initial distress call. Only 137 people on board survived.

The fate of the vessel has sparked several conspiracy theories, including that it might have collided with a submarine or that it allegedly carried sensitive military cargo.

The 1997 official joint investigation by Estonia, Finland and Sweden concluded that the ferry sank when its bow door locks failed in a storm.

That separated the bow door from the vessel, opening up the ramp to the car deck and causing extensive flooding of the decks.

The latest probe was initiated after a 2020 television documentary included video images from the wreck site showing a hole in the hull measuring 13ft on the starboard side.

Officials have confirmed that the wreck does have a hole, about 72ft long and 13ft high.

Jonas Backstrand, deputy head of the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority, said that this hole and other damage have become more visible because the wreck has “twisted 13 degrees” due to changes in the seabed.

The commission used underwater footage and computerised images as part of its probe.

“It looks like it has been damaged by the impact when it hit the seabed,” said Mr Backstrand of the wreck, as he presented the intermediate report on the preliminary assessment in Tallinn, Estonia.

“We are not done yet,” he said, adding this was only a preliminary conclusion and more investigations are planned.

A leading theory contended that the Estonia had been carrying military equipment, and that there was some sort of explosion.

The Swedish Armed Forces has said it used the ferry to transport only electronic-type equipment – but not on the fateful night.

The wreck lies on the seabed 265ft below the surface in international waters off a Finnish island, and is considered a graveyard, which gives the area protection under the law.

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