Lang: Matters were handled very democratically

Carl Eric Laantee Reintamm and Rein Lang

PHOTO: Remo Tõnismäe

MS Estonia survivor Carl Eric Laantee Reintamm and former justice minister Rein Lang who used to disagree on the disaster agree that a new investigation is needed.

Do you recommend the [Discovery Channel] documentary series?

CARL ERIC LAANTEE REINTAMM: It was very difficult for me to watch, very emotional. I’m glad that they have made a quality documentary. Swedish journalist Henrik Evertsson (director of the documentary series – ed.) is a hero for showing what a lot of survivors have wanted to come to light.

REIN LANG: It is a highly professional documentary that I wholeheartedly recommend, but as with everything, critical analysis and source criticism are in order.

Carl Erik, why have you kept from the media for 26 years the fact that you saw a large light object next to the ferry on the night it sank?

REINTAMM: It made no sense for me to talk about things that would have seen me labeled a fool. I was shocked to learn six years after the disaster that the Swedish police had changed my story. I told them about a large object measuring several meters by several meters, while they said I saw white spots. Luckily, I wrote down my experience three months after the sinking of MS Estonia on the last day of the year.

LANG: Let us strive for accuracy here. This points to the official position of Sweden. An international investigative committee was formed soon after the shipwreck to ascertain its causes. No one has fully challenged the causes detailed in the committee’s final result.

We have a person here who was there that night, claiming that they saw a large object next to the ship and was never listened to. That is the challenge.

LANG: Indeed, we cannot say that no one has challenged those findings. There have been many challenges. The international investigative committee has succeeded in defending its findings in the eyes of those with the power to decide whether a new investigation is in order. The final report has been for the three governments (Estonia, Finland and Sweden – ed.) the basis for further action. But everyone has maintained that a new investigation will be considered should new evidence come to light. And it has today.

Who should have the power to decide whether to launch and new investigation?

REINTAMM: I believe that the survivors and loved ones of those who perished should have a say in it. This thing needs to be studied more thoroughly. We have suffered for 26 years for not being able to talk about it because no one believes us. We are talking about respecting the gravesite, while the Swedish government then proceeds to pour rocks on the wreck! What are we even talking about!

LANG: I imagine that the idea to cover the wreck in concrete was aimed at keeping hordes of treasure hunters from diving to the wreck and rummaging through it. The aim was not to hide something or make it impossible for future generations to study the causes of the disaster. Those decisions were made by all three countries and no one is infallible.

Have the loved ones of victims sought this sanctity of the gravesite agreement?

REINTAMM: No loved one was asked what they want as far as I know. Those who were touched by it were not asked, while we keep hearing about how much we need it.

LANG: I was not a member of the government at the time, but I’s sure representatives of loved ones were asked whether they would like treasure hunters to have access to the wreck. To the best of my knowledge, the answer they got was that such attempts need to be blocked no matter what.

REINTAMM: I still didn’t know whether I would survive the catastrophe on board the life raft. I knew that I got out, that I could hope my body would be found. Knowing that was very important for me that night. In truth, we were promised the bodies would be brought up and we have been told by divers that hundreds of bodies could have been recovered without much effort. This makes no sense and countries talking about how they care about us does not change that fact.

Indeed, divers who studied the wreck say in the second episode of the series that bringing up the bodies of the victims would not have been a problem, while they were told not to. Why is that?

LANG: The Swedish government decided to ask the opinion of an ethics committee assembled for the purpose. It was made up of representatives of churches, scientists and philosophers. They strongly questioned the concept of trying to bring up all the bodies.

REINTAMM: Disasters have taken place before and after the sinking of MS Estonia, whereas they have not required ethics committees and it has been a given that as many bodies as possible are recovered. It is yet another thing that makes no sense and requires an investigation.

LANG: Without seeking to tread on anyone’s feelings, I would cautiously mention that the decision of whether to recover the bodies of all victims cannot be made by survivors alone and that the three governments in this case need to decide. I would not endorse this message that survivors or loved ones need to have the final say. The matter was handled very democratically in Sweden.

Did the ethics committee include a representative of victims’ loved ones?

LANG: I do not know that. It advised the Swedish government at the time.

REINTAMM: The Estonian government needs to organize an investigation we can believe. We need to study the entire hull in detail and people who we trust in these matters, like Margus Kurm (head of the expert committee in 2005-2009 – ed.) and Henrik Evertsson, need to be involved.

LANG: Yes, I believe that this footage is reason enough to ascertain what the holes in the hull of MS Estonia are and how they got there. Should a new investigation be launched, which I support, all three governments have the difficult task of appointing the people who will participate.