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Estonia Tragedy Remembered

Published söndag 27 september 2009 kl 01.00
A monument in Galärparken to those who lost their lives on the Estonia 15 years ago

Today is exactly fifteen years since Europe and Sweden's worst post-war maritime disaster. The sinking of the ferry Estonia in the early hours of September the 28th 1994 claimed the lives of 852 people on board, many of them Swedes.

For those survivors and relatives of loved lost ones , it may be fifteen years but the sinking of the MS estonia seems like only yesterday.

The German built passenger car ferry MS Estonia was the newest and largest ship in the Estonian fleet and carried many Estonia's on their first voyage outside the bounds of the old Soviet empire. On the night of the 27th of September 1994, in stormy seas over a thousand passengers and crew were making the journey across the Baltic sea from Tallin to Stockholm, mostly Swedes and Estonians with a mainly Finnish crew.

Shortly before 1am, a metallic bang was heard by many passengers in their cabins. According to an official accident report produced in 1997 by a joint commission from Sweden, Estonia and finland, the noises were coming from the bow of the ship, where weak, poorly built locks on the 50 ton bow door, or visor, (which opens when the ship is in port) snap, under the weight of the pounding waves.

Ten minutes later, the attachments fail completely and the bow door flaps open in the sea, making contact with the inner door, the last barrier between the car deck and the water. Then with the ship still at full speed, the bow door visor goes completely with tons of water now rushing into the cardeck..at about 20 tons per second ..panicked passengers, many dressed only in their underwear, head for the stairways, many below have already drowned.

The Estonia sends out its first Mayday signal.

For those making it to the outer deck, many are swept into the icy sea. Those lucky enough to get into rafts try to help pull others aboard. Some don't have the strength to climb in and simply cling to ropes around the rafts. Over the next few hours, those in the water die from hyperthermia, as do some in the waterlogged rafts.

At 1.50 , just fifty minutes since the first loud noise, the white ferry ship goes down, stern first, eventually settling 70 metres down on the sea floor. In total, just 94 bodies are recovered.Of the 137 survivors, 94 are passengers and 43 are crew members. Most of the survivors were men. The final death toll is 852.

The cause of the sinking has been debated over the years with many relatives of the dead, shipping experts and politicians claiming of a cover up; that there was an explosion on board caused by some unidentified cargo on board. Indeed many years after the sinking Sweden finally revealed that the ship carried secret military equipment on board on the 14 and 20th of September 1994 adding fuel to sabotage theories, but insisted that it didn't carry a third consignment on that black night on september 28.

However an Estonian government commission established in 2005, concluded in february this year and agreed with previous investigations that a design and construction flaw in the bow door was the most likley cause of the disaster and found no link to the covert transportation of military equipment on board.

The commission did not entirely rule out the possibility that there may have been a hole in the hull, though an interim report published in 2007 discounted theories that one could have been caused by an explosion of undeclared military ordinance, as some relatives of victims have suggested.

Despite commission findings into the sinking, no-one has been held accountable, meanwhile on Monday survivors and relatives of those who perished will remember.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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