MS Estonia next of kin to launch own investigation

MS Estonia next of kin to launch own investigation.
MS Estonia next of kin to launch own investigation. Photo: Liis Treimann

Head of the initial MS Estonia ferry disaster investigative committee Margus Kurm is leading a new expedition that will depart for the site in ten days. The aim of the private sponsors-backed expedition is to determine why the ferry sank.

“It’s now or never,” said Raivo Hellerma, head of MS Estonia next of kin association Memento Mare. “We are not looking for culprits or trying to prove an existing theory. I simply believe this is a unique opportunity to answer at least some of the questions we have.”

Head of the Swedish MS Estonia next of kin organization SEA Lennart Berglund said he feels like all previous investigations were carried out to hide the true reason for the ferry’s sinking. “It (Kurm’s investigation – ed.) is very important for us in terms of finding the real reason of the Estonia disaster,” he said, having spent the last 27 years pondering the causes of the shipwreck.

Margus Kurm said that he has had the idea for an independent investigation for some time. “This summer, we managed to find a suitable team and sponsor,” the former public prosecutor said.

Asked why such a parallel investigation is needed, Kurm said there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the shipwreck. “If I’m honest, I do not trust them (the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau – ed.). Maybe they are the right people doing the right thing,” Kurm said, adding that he does not wish to elaborate on what has eroded trust in the past.

He said that the problem goes beyond the bureau. A recent Norwegian documentary saw politicians make promises that Kurm suggests have not been kept. “We were told there would be a broad-based investigation, an international expert committee, a project manager and next of kin being able to appoint their representative. None of those things have happened,” he said. Kurm also said that an alternative expedition is needed because the Estonian safety bureau has involved Swedish colleagues. “It is very difficult for me to believe the work is sincere as long as the Swedes are involved,” he said.

German vessel

“Underwater robots, sonar, a magnetometer…” Kurm listed in terms of technical possibilities offered by research vessel RS Sentinel chartered from German company RS Offshore. A second team of underwater robotics has been hired, equipped with photogrammetry capacity. “We plan to create a 3D model of damage to the hull,” Kurm said, adding that four freelance divers and a support team will be in charge of the work. This should provide a comprehensive overview of the MS Estonia wreck and the surrounding area.

Kurm invited Singapore-based Polish expert Andrzej Jasionowski to analyze the results.

Head of marine accidents investigators SophusQuorum, Jasionowski has been involved in the MS Estonia saga before. He was part of the Swedish government’s 2005 consortium and in charge of various MS Estonia studies. Their efforts concluded that the ferry most likely sank because of the bow visor coming undone, which is also the official version of events.

Asked why he deems another expedition to be necessary, Jasionowski said that the likeliest scenario was nevertheless not found to be final or exhaustive. “Our report highlighted several inconsistencies. Some survivors had different accounts of what happened. There were several uncertainties, and we arrived at the conclusion that while the bow visor breaking is the likeliest scenario, it might not be the final truth. Therefore, we recommended a survey of the wreck at the time,” Jasionowski said.

It is likely the team will have to deal with Finnish and Swedish border guard because of the sanctity of the grave agreement surrounding the MS Estonia wreck. Kurm described the agreement and the understanding that diving to the wreck is prohibited as exaggerated. “No Estonian law bans diving to the wreck for research purposes. The problem concerns Swedish and Finnish citizens because their laws are stricter than the 1995 agreement. However, these laws do not apply to citizens of other countries. The wreck lies in international waters,” the expedition lead said.

“After the material shown on Swedish television and new circumstances that came to light this summer, a new investigation is inescapable,” Kurm said. He emphasized that the main goal of the expedition is to record and scan the damage to the wreck and create a 3D model using the material.

“The emphasis is on underwater robots, with divers going where the robots cannot reach,” Kurm said. After the material is collected and analyzed, the experts will put together a comprehensive picture of the course and reasons for the ferry’s sinking. Both new and existing materials will be used.

Up to €800,000

The goal and project are ambitious as reflected in the budget. “We estimate the entire project to cost €800,000 of which €500,000-600,000 will be spent on the dives,” Kurm said. He explained that the final cost of the project will depend on the duration of the diving operation. The ship and equipment are rented by the day. The final cost will also depend on the need for various expert analyses.

Kurm created the NGO Mare Liberum to finance the expedition, with sponsors from Sweden and Estonia. The largest sponsor of the project is Postimees Group. Jüri Pihel, spokesperson for Postimees Group and Duo Media, said that the two-week expedition is not a business project for Postimees and that the aim is to offer comprehensive coverage. “Every media organization in the world using our materials will contribute,” Pihel said. “The project belongs solely to representative organizations, Margus Kurm and the scientists involved,” he emphasized.

Pihel added that great mysteries benefit from having several points of view. “The official version has always been overshadowed by suspicions of bias and certain things remaining hidden. It will be good to have an independent investigation following the initiative of top experts and next of kin and using the best available technology.”

“Kurm’s expedition”

Swedish next of kin organization SEA also supports the expedition. Among Swedish sponsors is investment firm, former shipping venture M.G.A Holding AB headed by Mats Arnhög. “He has been keeping an eye on MS Estonia developments since the shipwreck. He is convinced we do not have the whole truth,” SEA chair Lennart Berglund said.

Lennart Berglund, Raivo Hellerma and Margus Kurm – not to mention Polish researcher Andrzej Jasionowski – said that should their investigation confirm the ferry sank as a result of the bow visor breaking – as per the official version – all are prepared to accept it. “Absolutely! We are not stuck on any one theory,” Kurm said. The expedition is also prepared to share recordings and other proof with the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau. “However, we will be commissioning analysis of materials from trusted experts,” Kurm emphasized.

Berglund said he has full confidence in Kurm’s expedition. “Even if they will not be able to find solid proof, I will trust the likeliest cause determined by this expedition. We want to use the results in a court case and have the court finally say why MS Estonia sank,” he said.

The expedition will begin on September 18.