Kurm expedition interested in MS Estonia interior

Otse Eloga: Margus Kurm ja Jüri Pihel PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

The private MS Estonia expedition set to get underway nine days from now will also survey the inside of the wreck of the ferry, head of the initial MS Estonia disaster investigation and coordinator of the recent effort Margus Kurm said on the “Otse Eloga” webcast on Wednesday.

You will have divers with you. Because the bow ramp is no longer blocking access to the car deck for unknown reasons, do you plan to enter the deck?

The first priority of our investigation is to map, record and scan damage to the vessel. But yes, we also plan to enter the car deck.

Our first task will be to determine the situation of the bow area. But since the car deck is now accessible, we plan to survey it as far as can be done safely. The material will allow us to analyze vehicles on top of the scrap heap and whether any are missing when compared to the ship’s manifest.

Will you be studying the deck using robots or divers?

Both, while robots will be in charge of most of the efforts. The divers will be there to assist.

Will you be looking for military equipment or missing persons?

No, we will not be examining dead bodies or bringing anyone up.

As concerns military technology, we will record the situation on the car deck but will not be navigating that maze of scrap metal in search of military equipment.

The underwater surveys carried out (by the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau – ed.) in July were plagued by a mysterious signal. Head of the state’s investigation Rene Arikas has said he has no plan to determine its source. What will you do should the same signal disrupt your efforts?

The signal mainly disrupted sideways sonar imaging and not the work of underwater robots we will mainly be using.

Rene Arikas himself said the jammer was likely not natural in origin. If I was in charge of an agency tasked with the investigation, I would do everything in my power to try and determine the origin of disruptive signals.

Is your parallel investigation a vote of no confidence in recent efforts?

It is not so much about lack of trust in recent researchers but rather of having more than one view always being beneficial. Our activities can be seen as competition for the safety bureau’s efforts.

Had a committee of independent experts been comprised from the first, as per the wishes of victims’ next of kin, would we even be talking about a parallel expedition?

Indeed, had what we were promised in October of last year materialized, has we an expert committee working with or next to the Safety Investigation Bureau with experts from outside Estonia and Sweden and someone with support from next of kin of victims, the likelihood of the need for such an expedition would be smaller.

That is to say the government has made a mistake and lost trust?

If the government makes a promise and fails to keep it, people have the right to ask why and take steps to achieve their goal through private means.

Is surveying the wreck following the initiative of next of kin legal or are we looking at a major incident with Sweden?

I cannot gauge the Swedish state’s reaction. There are no laws in Estonia to prohibit diving to wrecks as part of an investigation.

Private investigations at the site of the MS Estonia shipwreck have been hindered in the past. Are you prepared for something like that?

I see no way for Estonian public officials to stop us. I cannot read the minds of the Swedish authorities. We are considering the possibility of military or law enforcement vessels trying to hinder our dive. That is what happened during the first private dive attempt in 2000.

What will you do?

We will try to negotiate. But should we fail to reach an agreement, we cannot break through any blockage that might be created. But that happening would be a whole other story.