Su, 1.10.2023

Jakob Olszewski, who dove to the wreck of Estonia: someone has moved the ramp

Wreck of the ferry Estonia.
Wreck of the ferry Estonia. Photo: Madis Veltman

The experienced diver, who has been to the wreck of M/S Estonia for six times, says that Finland should know if anyone has visited the wreck in 2019–2021.

What was the state of the ramp when you dove to M/S Estonia?

It was in its place but not entirely closed. Between the edge of the ramp and the hull there was a crack, I would say 80 centimeters to one meter wide, through which one could have entered the car deck.

But the ramp itself was there in its regular place and fit quite tightly. It was there in 2000 and 2001 and also in 2019 when I controlled the ARV-robot during the Norwegian expedition.

So the ramp was still there in 2019? Nothing had changed in the intervening 18 years?

I did not dive myself in 2019 but I saw through the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) camera that the ramp was still attached to the hull. I do have to admit that I could not see the whole ramp because visibility was bad and the ramp was not in our focus of attention at that time. But I think it was in the same shape as 18 years ago.

In your opinion, what could have caused the separation of the ramp in these two years?

It is difficult to say, it would require an investigation. It is possible that the ramp broke off by itself, since the shipwreck occurred nearly thirty years ago and the ramp had corroded. The other possibility is that someone removed it. And not by mistake but deliberately.

How badly corroded were the ramp and the attachments in your opinion?

They were corroded but I would presume that in a quite good shape because water is very cold down there and contains little oxygen. Such conditions help to preserve the hull. I did not notice any significant deterioration of the hull in 18 years.

What do you think, why was the ramp ajar that way?

I am not an expert on ships but it is theoretically possible that someone tried to open the ramp back in 1994 or, vice versa, close it. But it did not work out. I cannot tell what might have caused the partial opening of the ramp.

There are speculations that currents might have pried the ramp open. What do you think?

This seems impossible. First, the ramp is very heavy, it weights several tons, secondly there are no noticeable currents by the wreck, at least not in the occasions when I was down there. The currents are only at the first tem meters and it depends a lot on weather.

By the way, how was the visibility?

Visibility is very good. Of course, here is no daylight, but if you use a powerful source of light, then you could see as far as, say six to eight meters. It depends on the season as well.

(I send Jakob Olszewski a recent video of the ramp made during the current investigation. The answer arrives soon)

It is difficult to say, based on this video, why the ramp has detached, since its hinges cannot be seen. However, I would say that the ramp could not move like that without outside help. If the hinges had rusted through, the ramp should have moved in a different direction, in my opinion. This is not so in the present case. Therefore I would say that someone moved the ramp to gain access to the car deck.

Who would have wanted to enter the car deck?

Professionals. Maybe military divers, the navy? The Finnish Border Guard monitors the area 24 hours. Every time when I was there, the Finns were as well. Sometimes they were already waiting for us, sometimes arrived a bit later. But it is impossible to do anything there without Finland’s knowledge.

But what if you use a very small boat which the radar cannot detect? Or a submarine?

(Hesitantly). Possibly, but you should ask that from experts on ships.

What do you think, can we establish whether the ramp fell off due to forces of nature or because of human interference?

It should be possible to establish. It could also be detected if anyone attempted to remove something from the car deck, cut holes in a vehicle or something similar. It all leaves traces.

And now with the ramp completely off it should be easy to study the car deck?

Yes, of course. It was almost impossible before, there was the risk that the ROV cable would jam. Investigating the car deck is the next logical move.

You entered the car deck through the cracked ramp during Jutta Rabe’s investigation and, as far as we know, you are the only person to do so.

Yes, officially I am the only one. But I do not believe it.

How far did you go?

Not too far, a few meters. Immediately behind the ramp there is a small space, some seven-eight meters and that is where I was.

Why didn’t you go further?

It is quite hazardous being in the car deck. There may be loose cables or fragments, something may fall from above – it is always risky to enter a wreck or a cave. One also has to keep in mind that the entry is 90 meters deep. I studied the entry at the end of my dive and I did not have enough oxygen to go further.

The man who squeezed through the crack

Jakob Olszewski is a Germany-based technical diver, which means more difficult and complicated diving than recreational diving for fun. Olszewski has been diving for more than 30 years and has investigated underwater caves and wrecks and has dived to a depth of 125 meters where one cannot breathe air and has to use special gas mixture containing helium. Olszewski has studied business administration and works as an insurance expert of a German company in his time off from diving.

The Swedes are doubtful about entering the wreck

Jonas Bäckstrand, head of the Swedish investigation commission, hinted STV that they question the practicality of entering the wreck of M/S Estonia.

According to Bäckstrand there are currently debates whether to investigate the interior of the wreck. “We are discussing to what extent we should enter the ship. If we do enter, then out of respect to the dead we mush have a practical reason.”

Bäckstrand was unwilling to speculate about the causes of the detaching of the ramp or the newly discovered hull damage but regarding the ruptures he mentioned that these might have happened as the ship sank. “The seabed is solid and rocky near the wreck. It is not yet clear whether it could be related to the damage,” he said.

Rolf Sörman, a survivor of the shipwreck who was present to witness the investigation, said that the news about the open bow ramp raises new questions. But “natural explanations” could not be ruled out.

“Twenty-seven years have passed and a detailed investigation is necessary. If the visor was recovered, the ramp should be recovered as well,” said Sörman, who added that underwater investigations are naturally complicated.


So extensive changes are not quite natural

Arvo Veskimets, maritime expert

I am worried because such a change provides ground for further investigation and new circumstances will probably emerge which we cannot currently imagine. I can imagine two reasons why the bow ramp opened. Either it was a natural process due to the deterioration of the wreck or someone attempted to enter. These two options are obvious.

Beyond doubt, the bow ramp was in that position during the initial investigation and it is a fact that it was recorded in the same position ´two years ago and now the situation is quite different. I would like to know more precisely how it looks down there how the ramp had fallen off. There must be some traces. It is not natural that such changes have taken place in two years.

The extent of the ramp’s opening is just a detail

Mihkel Kõrgesaar, Professor of Tallinn University of Technology Kuressaare college

The fact that the bow ramp is open confirms the version of the investigation report that the ramp opened and the water flooded in. I remind, the unofficial report stated that water entered the ship through the bow visor. The report considered that the water entered the ship through the bow ramp; according to the calculations made so far, water did not enter any other way. To what extent the ramp was open is a question which should maybe really investigated but this is simply a detail.

It seems that the Swedes know more than we do

Raivo Hellerma, representative of the next of kin of shipwreck victims

The initial situation cannot be investigated at present. I hope that the modern equipment and our professional investigators will find out the truth. Since the bow ramp was in place during the previous studies, the new discovery naturally raises questions. But since I have no good version myself, I am open to investigation with top-level equipment. First, of course, it has to be determined whether the ramp detached due to human interaction or from other causes. It did cause confusion.

It is my personal opinion but it seems to me that the Swedish know all the time slightly more than we do. I stress that no step promoting the investigation should be ruled out. I am satisfied with the investigation, the level of information, informing the public and going into details. They also deployed the underwater robot which had been initially questionable. It seems to me that the Estonian side at least will get to the bottom of it. I hope that teamwork does not fail and all the participants agree.