Recent underwater footage of the Estonia ferry resting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea has uncovered extensive damage on the starboard side, including a previously unknown 4-metre hole, fuelling renewed interest in the case and demands for a new investigation.
Two Swedes that were part of a crew that worked on a new documentary about the 1994 death of the Estonia ferry have been charged for violating the Estonia Act, which specifically prohibits citizens from the signatory counties to even approach the wreck.
The film team included Swedish, Norwegian, and German citizens, while the boat’s crew included German and Polish citizens as well. The purpose of the documentary was to try and find out the truth about the tragedy, which is the largest peacetime maritime catastrophe in the Baltic Sea.
“The grave peace at the Estonia has been violated by the incident”, chamber prosecutor Helene Gestrin at the National Unit against International and Organised Crime, said in a press release. “The Estonia is located in international waters, but to protect the wreck, there is special legislation in place based on an agreement between several Baltic Sea states that Sweden has signed”, she reminded. The law of the the sanctity of the sea grave has been signed by Estonia and Finland as well.
The filming took place in September 2019, when a German-flagged boat sent an underwater drone to the wreck of the Estonia in a bid to uncover new details about its sudden and tragic death. Significantly, Germany is not among the signatories of the Estonia Act. The penalty for the crime is a fine and imprisonment for up to two years.
“The law has never been tried by a court before. The question is whether Swedish law outweighs the fact that the underwater activities took place in international waters and by a German-flagged boat”, Helene Gestrin said.
37-year-old shipwreck expert Linus Andersson from Gothenburg is one of the accused. He maintains that he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“Sweden cannot assert its own legislation in international waters”, he told national broadcaster SVT. “I understand that the law is meant to protect the Estonia wreck. The ethical and moral aspects were also important to me. But when I heard that the relatives’ association almost encouraged us [to perform a new survey], I felt safe”, Linus Andersson said.
He criticised the previous surveys as “deficient” for not being methodical enough and not following the same pattern and expressed hope that his finds, which include a previously unknown 4-metre hole in the starboard side, will pave the way for a new, thorough investigation.
— Kristjan Akkermann (@AkkermannKris) September 28, 2020
The find also rekindled the old criticism of the previous investigation, which placed the blame on a faulty bow visor that allowed thousands of tonnes of water to flood in, as hasty and insufficient. It also rejuvenated popular alternative theories, such as the massive ferry, which, as former Estonian public prosecutor Margus Kurm speculated, could have carried a “sensitive consignment” of sorts, sinking after a collision with a submarine. These theories were also fuelled by the Swedish government deciding to drop thousands of tonnes of pebbles on the site while the previous inquiry was still underway.
In the aftermath of the film, Estonia survivors also penned an open letter demanding the Swedish government hold a new investigation.
While Prime Minister Stefan Löfven finally broke the silence and responded to the criticism by saying that he didn’t rule out new dives at the Estonia site, prosecutor Gestrin stressed this is virtually impossible with current legislation. She emphasised that it is “completely forbidden” – even for the Swedish Accident Investigation Board – to carry out dives at the wreck site.
The Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea on 28 September 1994, on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm, killing 852 people.