«Has the archbishop met with MS Estonia next of kin?»

Jakob Olszewski.
Jakob Olszewski. Photo: Madis Veltman

German diver Jakob Olszewski is known as the person who has been to the wreck of MS Estonia the most times, having seen the wreck on six dives. Olszewski is also a member of Margus Kurm’s SA Mare Liberum expedition where he heads the four-member team of divers. Among other reasons, because he takes the disaster personally.

Olszewski, who dove to MS Estonia in 2000 and 2001, served as an expert during the 2019 documentary expedition and saw the state of the hull on a monitor. “It was curious that the hull had changed very little in that time,” he said.

The diver attributed this to the fact that there is very little oxygen on the seafloor where MS Estonia sank, as well as the Baltic Sea’s very low water temperature. Everything has allegedly been preserved – including the victims’ bodies – with the exception of one thing. “A big pile of sand in the starboard area in 2000 and 2001 had been washed away or had disappeared. That allowed new damage to be found that caused a stir.”

Archbishop’s motive unclear

Olszewski saw victims’ bodies scattered around the wreck during his first expedition in 2000. The crew lost an element of its sonar and had to search the whole area for it in which process they saw a lot of victims. “We saw them on monitors, not directly,” the diver explained. “It is clear that we are talking about a grave site. And, of course… (looking for the right words) it is not something we do every day. Therefore, it is possible to make a thing out of it...”

It turns out that Olszewski has read Estonian newspapers and was referring to a statement by Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) Urmas Viilma where he criticized the private expedition, pointing to a sanctity of the grave site agreement. “Really! Having intimate knowledge of the affair and having spent a lot of hours investigating it, I really do not understand the archbishop and his message,” he said.

Olszewski said he has met with representatives of MS Estonia victims’ next of kin on numerous occasions and been asked to ascertain the truth of what happened. “Are the next of kin not deserving of peace?” he asked. “They do not currently have it. They remain concerned and anxious until the truth has been found.”

“Has the archbishop met with [MS Estonia] next of kin? Does he know of what he speaks or is he simply seizing an opportunity to broadcast his organization’s message? It is a very sensitive subject and one best not commented on without knowledge of the situation,” Olszewski said.

Asked whether divers have received training to cope with finding dead bodies, Olszewski said it is not anticipated. “We do not expect to come across them on the car deck. People are not on the car deck during the voyage,” he said.

He could not say what the conditions could be like where the wreck of the ferry lies at a depth of 80 meters. “The weather is always the main parameter at sea,” he said. While the weather is said to be calm on Wednesday, a storm is forecast for Thursday. Waves a meter high are forecast to be replaced by five-meter ones.

“The greatest challenge is not the depth, but cold water. Entering the wreck also comes with certain risks. But other than that, we anticipate no great challenges,” Olszewski said.

Car deck a priority

The diver has his plan and mission. “There are several points of interest. The car deck will be our main goal as the bow ramp is completely detached now. You can imagine sunken trucks,” he said, adding that a rare opportunity to enter the hull and film the situation there has presented itself. “But it will be safety first,” Olszewski added.

He has entered the wreck of MS Estonia once before. It was in 2000 when the bow ramp was only slightly ajar, he recalls. “There was not much room to enter the hull, maybe 80-100 centimeters. I visited the car deck, but only went in a couple of meters,” Olszewski, who first started diving in the 1990s, said.

The situation will be mapped using a UUV or an underwater robot before the dive. Olszewski emphasized that the goal is to get an idea of the extent of damage between the car deck and the decks above it. That will give us an idea of how damage looks from inside the ship,” he said.