MS Estonia expedition to study items on seafloor

Hydrographer Peeter Ude on board of RS Sentinel. PHOTO: Madis Veltman

Research vessel RS Sentinel is estimated to reach the site of MS Estonia’s sinking on Wednesday morning. The team’s first job will be to survey the seafloor using a multibeam sonar followed by a closer look at items surrounding the wreck to determine what they are and whether they came from the ferry.

“We have images of containers, while we don’t know whether they have anything to do with MS Estonia,” hydrographer Peeter Ude said, looking out at the raging sea. The team on board the RS Sentinel that entered the Baltic Sea on Monday morning is busy planning work and refrains from making promises. “We will wait and say something after we see something,” Ude often says. The hydrographer nevertheless agreed to explain what the team will be doing first upon arrival.

The third day of the expedition was spent planning on what and how to do first. It was decided to survey the surroundings of the wreck using the ship’s multibeam sonar. This would see the vessel move back and forth over the shipwreck site.

The same technology was used by the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau (OJK) expedition this summer. It took two days. Peeter Ude was with the team also in summer, deputized by the next of kin of victims. He said that the expedition plans to conclude the seafloor sonar survey in five to six hours – in a far shorter time than the national investigation in summer.

Ude said that things went south during the expedition headed by Rene Arikas, which is why a do-over is in order. “They failed to observe a single good practice and simply wanted to get it over with. This caused them to do it again and again. I asked them whether they were just fooling around. I’m looking at an area of 5x5 centimeters at a depth of 60 meters while they were looking at 1.5x2.5 meters. I asked them whether they were kidding that prompted them to repeat the process. I said it was pointless. They finally switched to 20x40 centimeters after two days of efforts,” Ude said.

He believes that the objects in question would not have been discovered without focusing the sonar so to speak. “Most definitely not,” Ude said.

Ude and his team have a map created by OJK as it provides a rough overview of the area to be scanned. Whereas neither the map nor relevant information has been released by the bureau. It simply appeared on the marine forum complete with the item locations.

“There are metal structures on the seafloor,” Ude said, pointing to different areas on the screen. The hydrographer said that these objects have never been mentioned by any report, even though multibeam sonar has been used in the past. “These objects are of no interest to them,” Ude said in terms of why the structures have not been recorded on past maps.

There seems to quite a high concentration of objects in one particular location. Ude suggested they might be cables.

The objects supposedly vary in size, ranging from a length of a few meters to ten meters. Ude did not specify whether these could be cars. The objects seem to include shipping containers. “There seem to be a few objects resembling containers,” he said.

These objects seem to form a corridor half a kilometer wide near the ship’s last known route. Ude said that the wind was from the other side the night MS Estonia went down and that items could not have drifted to their current location if they are from the ferry.

Research vessel RS Sentinel departed for the MS Estonia shipwreck site for a privately funded expedition on Saturday.