One of Estonia's first days in Tallinn, 1993.
1980–1990: Viking Sally|
1990–1991: Silja Star
1991–1993: Wasa King
1980–1988: Rederi Ab Sally|
1992–1993: Effdo 3 Oy
1993–1994: Estline Marine Co Ltd
1980–1987: Rederi Ab Sally (Viking Line traffic)|
1987–1990: Rederi AB Slite (Viking Line traffic)
1990–1991: Silja Line
1991–1993: Wasa Line
|Port of registry:||
1980–1991: Mariehamn, Finland|
1991–1993: Vaasa, Finland
1993–1994: Tallinn, Estonia
Meyer Werft, Papenburg, West Germany|
18 October 1979|
26 April, 1980|
29 June 1980|
5 July 1980|
|Identification:|| IMO number: 7921033|
Capsized and sunk on 28 September 1994|
|General characteristics |
155.43 m (509 ft 11 in) (as built)|
157.02 m (515.16 ft) (1984 onwards)
24.21 m (79 ft 5 in)|
5.55 m (18 ft 3 in)|
4 × MAN 8L40/45|
17,625 kW (23,636 hp) (combined)
21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)|
1,190 passenger berths
MS Estonia, previously Viking Sally (1980–1990), Silja Star (−1991), and Wasa King (−1993), was a cruise ferry built in 1979/80 at the German shipyard Meyer Werft in Papenburg. The ship sank in 1994 in the Baltic Sea in one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century. It is the deadliest shipwreck disaster to have occurred in the Baltic Sea in peacetime, costing 852 lives.
Coordinates: 59°23′0″N 21°40′0″E / 59.38333°N 21.66667°E
The ship was originally ordered from Meyer Werft by a Norwegian shipping company led by Parley Augustsen with intended traffic between Norway and Germany. At the last moment, the company withdrew their order and the contract went to Rederi Ab Sally, one of the partners in the Viking Line consortium (SF Line, another partner in Viking Line, had also been interested in the ship). Originally the ship was conceived as a sister ship to Diana II, built in 1979 by the same shipyard for Rederi AB Slite, the third partner in Viking Line. However, when Sally took over the construction contract, the ship was lengthened from the original length of approximately 137 metres (449 ft) to approximately 155 metres (509 ft) and the superstructure of the ship was largely redesigned. Meyer Werft had constructed a large number of ships for various Viking Line partner companies during the 1970s. Worth noting is the new ship's bow construction, which consisted of an upwards-opening visor and a car ramp that was placed inside the visor when it was closed. An identical bow construction had also been used in Diana II.[JAIC 1]
On 29 June 1980 Viking Sally was delivered to Rederi Ab Sally, Finland and was put into service on the route between Turku, Mariehamn and Stockholm (during summer 1982 on the Naantali–Mariehamn–Kapellskär route). She was the largest ship to serve on that route at the time. As with many ships, Viking Sally suffered some mishaps during her Viking Line service, being grounded in the Åland Archipelago in May 1984 and suffering some propeller problems in April of the following year. In 1985 she was also rebuilt with a "duck tail". In 1986, Reijo Hammar, an infamous Finnish criminal, strangled and stabbed a businessman on the ship.
Rederi Ab Sally had been experiencing financial difficulties for most of the 1980s. In late 1987, Effoa and Johnson Line, the owners of Viking Line's main rivals Silja Line, bought Sally. As a result of this, SF Line and Rederi AB Slite forced Sally to withdraw from Viking Line. Viking Sally was chartered to Rederi AB Slite to continue on her current traffic for the next three years.
When her charter ended in April 1990, Viking Sally had an unusual change of service. She was painted in Silja Line's colours, renamed Silja Star and placed on the same route that she had plied for Viking Line: Turku–Mariehamn–Stockholm. The reason for this was that Silja's new ship for Helsinki–Stockholm service was built behind schedule and one of the Turku–Stockholm ships, Wellamo, was transferred to that route until the new ship was complete in November 1990. Also in 1990 Effoa, Johnson Line and Rederi Ab Sally merged into EffJohn.
The following spring Silja Star began her service with Wasa Line, another company owned by EffJohn. Her name was changed to Wasa King and she served on routes connecting Vaasa, Finland to Umeå and Sundsvall in Sweden. It has been reported that the Wasa King was widely considered to be the best behaving ship in rough weather to have sailed from Vaasa.
In January 1993, at the same time when EffJohn decided to merge Wasa Line's operations into Silja Line, Wasa King was sold to Nordström & Thulin for use on EstLine's Tallinn–Stockholm traffic under the name Estonia. The actual ownership of the ship was rather complex, in order for Nordstöm & Thulin to get a loan to buy the ship. Although Nordström & Thulin were the company who bought the ship, her registered owners were Estline Marine Co Ltd, Nicosia, Cyprus, who chartered the ship to E.Liini A/S, Tallinn, Estonia (daughter company of Nordström & Thulin and ESCO) who in turn chartered the ship to EstLine Ab. As a result the ship was actually registered in both Cyprus and Estonia.
As the largest Estonian-owned ship of the time, the Estonia symbolized the independence that Estonia regained after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Estonia disaster occurred on Wednesday, 28 September 1994, between about 00:55 to 01:50 (UTC+2) as the ship was crossing the Baltic Sea, en route from Tallinn, Estonia, to Stockholm. Estonia was on a scheduled crossing with departure at 19:00 on 27 September. She had been expected in Stockholm the next morning at about 09:30. She was carrying 989 people: 803 passengers and 186 crew.[JAIC 2] Most of the passengers were Scandinavian, while most of the crew members were Estonian. The ship was fully loaded, and was listing slightly to port because of poor cargo distribution.
According to the final disaster report the weather was rough, with a wind of 15 to 20 metres per second (29 to 39 kn; 34 to 45 mph), force 7–8 on the Beaufort scale and a significant wave height of 4 to 6 metres (13 to 20 ft)[JAIC 3] compared with the highest measured significant wave height in the Baltic Sea of 7.7 metres (25.3 ft). Esa Mäkelä, the captain of Silja Europa who was appointed on scene commander for the subsequent rescue effort, described the weather as "normally bad", or like a typical autumn storm in the Baltic Sea. All scheduled passenger ferries were at sea. The official report says that while the exact speed at the time of the accident is not known, Estonia had very regular voyage times, averaging 16 to 17 knots (30 to 31 km/h; 18 to 20 mph), perhaps implying she did not slow down for adverse conditions. The chief mate of the Viking Line cruiseferry Mariella tracked Estonia's speed by radar at approximately 14.2 knots (26.3 km/h; 16.3 mph) before the first signs of distress, while the Silja Europa's officers estimated her speed at 14 to 15 knots (26 to 28 km/h; 16 to 17 mph) at midnight.
The first sign of trouble aboard Estonia was when a metallic bang was heard, caused by a heavy wave hitting the bow doors around 01:00, when the ship was on the outskirts of the Turku archipelago, but an inspection—limited to checking the indicator lights for the ramp and visor—showed no problems. Over the next 10 minutes, similar noises were reported by passengers and other crew. At about 01:15, the visor separated in which the ship's bow door opened and the ship immediately took on a heavy starboard list (initial 30 to 40 degrees, but by 01:30, the ship had rolled 90 degrees) as water flooded into the vehicle deck. Estonia was turned to port and slowed before her four engines cut out completely.
At about 01:20 a weak female voice called "Häire, häire, laeval on häire", Estonian for "Alarm, alarm, there is alarm on the ship", over the public address system, which was followed immediately by an internal alarm for the crew, then one minute later by the general lifeboat alarm. The vessel's rapid lean and the flooding prevented many people in the cabins from ascending to the boat deck. A Mayday was communicated by the ship's crew at 01:22, but did not follow international formats. Estonia directed a call to Silja Europa and only after making contact with her the radio operator uttered the word "Mayday". In English, the radio operator on Silja Europa, chief mate Teijo Seppelin replied: "Estonia, are you calling mayday?" After that, the voice of Andres Tammes took over on Estonia and the conversation shifted to Finnish. Tammes was able to provide some details about their situation but due to loss of power, he could not give their position, which delayed rescue operations somewhat. Some minutes later power returned (or somebody on the bridge managed to lower himself to the starboard side of the bridge to check the Shipmate which will display the ship's position even in a blackout condition), and the Estonia was able to radio their position to Silja Europa and Mariella. The ship disappeared from the radar screens of other ships at around 01:50, and sank at 59°23′N 21°42′E / 59.383°N 21.700°E, about 22 nautical miles (41 km; 25 mi) on bearing 157° from Utö island, Finland, in 74 to 85 metres (243 to 279 ft) of water.
Search and Rescue followed arrangements set up under the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (the SAR Convention) and the nearest Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre MRCC Turku coordinated the effort in accordance with Finland's plans. The Baltic is one of the world's busiest shipping areas with 2,000 vessels at sea at any time and these plans assumed the ship's own boats and nearby ferries would provide immediate help and helicopters could be airborne after an hour. This scheme had worked for the relatively small number of accidents involving sinkings (3 in 2006), particularly as most ships have few people on board.
Mariella, the first of five ferries to reach the scene of the accident, arrived at 02:12. MRCC Turku failed to acknowledge the Mayday immediately and Mariella's report was relayed by Helsinki Radio as the less urgent pan-pan message. A full scale emergency was only declared at 02:30. Mariella winched open liferafts into the sea onto which 13 people on Estonia's rafts successfully transferred, and reported the location of other rafts to Swedish and Finnish rescue helicopters, the first of which arrived at 03:05. The former took survivors to shore, while the latter—Finnish border guard helicopters Super Puma OH-HVG and Agusta Bell 412 OH-HVD—chose the riskier option of landing on the ferries. The pilot of OH-HVG stated that landing on the ferries was the most difficult part of the whole rescue operation, however this single helicopter rescued 44 people, more than all the ferries. Isabella saved 16 survivors with her rescue slide.
Of the 989 on board, 138 were rescued alive, but one died later in the hospital. Ships rescued 34 and helicopters 104; the ferries played a much smaller part than the planners had intended because it was too dangerous to launch their man-overboard (MOB) boats or lifeboats. The accident claimed 852 lives (501 Swedes, 285 Estonians, 17 Latvians, 10 Finns and 44 people of other nationalities: 1 from each of Belarus, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, 2 from Morocco, 3 from Lithuania, 5 from Denmark, 6 from Norway, 10 from Germany, 11 from Russia), by drowning and hypothermia (the water temperature was 10–11 °C/50–52 °F). One prominent victim of the sinking was the popular Estonian singer Urmas Alender. 93 bodies were recovered within 33 days of the accident. Victim number 94 was found 18 months later. By the time the rescue helicopters arrived, around a third of the people who escaped from the Estonia had died of hypothermia (less than a half of those who had managed to leave the ship were eventually rescued). The survivors of the shipwreck were mostly young, of strong physical composition, and male. Seven people over 55 years of age survived. There were no survivors under age 12. About 650 people were inside the ship when it sank.[JAIC 2] The commission estimate up to 310 passengers reached the outer decks and 160 climbed into the liferafts or lifeboats essential for survival. About 650 of the 757 missing persons are believed to be inside the ship. "The longer a ship is able to stay afloat in the event of an accident the more successful evacuation and rescue operations will be".
Causes of the disaster
The casualties "had an immense impact on the world concept of ferry safety" and led to changes in safety regulations and liferaft design much as the Titanic disaster did in 1912.
Official investigation and report
The wreck was examined and videotaped by remotely operated underwater vehicles and by divers from a Norwegian company, Rockwater A/S, contracted for the investigation work.[JAIC 4] The official report indicated that the locks on the bow door had failed from the strain of the waves and the door had separated from the rest of the vessel, pulling ajar the ramp behind it.[JAIC 5] The bow visor and ramp had been torn off at points that would not trigger an "open" or "unlatched" warning on the bridge, as is the case in normal operation or failure of the latches. The bridge was also situated too far back on the ferry for the visor to be seen from there.[JAIC 6] While there was video monitoring of the inner ramp, the monitor on the bridge was not visible from the conning station.[JAIC 7] The bow visor was under-designed for the conditions Estonia was operating in (the ferry was designed for coastal waters, not open regions like the Baltic Sea), and the visor's overhang focused the impact on a small area. The first metallic bang was believed to be the sound of the visor's lower locking mechanism failing, and subsequent noises were the visor 'flapping' against the hull as the other locks failed, before tearing free and exposing the bow ramp. The subsequent failure of the bow ramp allowed water into the vehicle deck, which was listed as the main cause of the capsizing and sinking: RORO ferries with their wide vehicle decks are particularly vulnerable to capsizing if the car deck is even slightly flooded because of free surface effect: the fluid's swilling motion across such a large area hampers the boat's ability to right itself after rolling with a wave.
The report was critical of the crew's actions, particularly for failing to reduce speed before investigating the noises emanating from the bow, and for being unaware that the list was being caused by water entering the vehicle deck. There were also general criticisms of the delays in sounding the alarm, the passivity of the crew and the lack of guidance from the bridge.
Recommendations for modifications to be applied to similar ships included separation of the condition sensors from the latch and hinge mechanisms.[JAIC 8]
Changes stemming from the disaster
In 1999, special training requirements in crowd and crisis management and human behaviour were extended to crew on all passenger ships, and amendments were made to watch-keeping standards.
Estonia's distress beacons or EPIRBs required manual activation which did not happen. Had they activated automatically, it would have been immediately obvious that the ship had sunk and the location would have been clear. All EPIRBs were subsequently required to deploy automatically and the accident was "instrumental in the move to legislate Voyage Data Recorders". New IMO SOLAS liferaft regulations for rescue from listing ships in rough water were introduced though launching such craft, even in training exercises, remains dangerous for the crew.
However "If you are out to sea, the best lifeboat is the ship itself." New designs, the "citadel concept" once again influenced by Estonia, aim to ensure damaged ships have sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat though cost will determine if any are built. SOLAS 90 which came into effect in 2010 specifies existing passenger ships stability requirements and those in North West Europe must also be able to survive 50 centimetres (20 in) of water on the car deck.
Conspiracy theories exist about the cause of the sinking. German journalist Jutta Rabe and the left-wing magazine New Statesman claim that laboratory tests on debris recovered illegally from Estonia's bow yielded trace evidence of a deliberate explosion, which they allege was concealed by the Swedish, British, and Russian governments to cover up an intelligence operation smuggling military hardware via the civilian ferry. Members of the Joint Accident Investigation Commission refuted these claims, saying that the damage seen on the debris occurred during the visor's detachment from the vessel. The JAIC cited results from Germany's Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, which found that Jutta Rabe's samples did not prove an explosion occurred.
In the autumn of 2004, a former Swedish customs officer claimed on Sveriges Television that Estonia had been used to transport military equipment in September 1994. The Swedish and Estonian governments subsequently launched separate investigations, which both confirmed that non-explosive military equipment was aboard the ship on 14 and 20 September 1994. According to the Swedish Ministry of Defence, no such equipment was on board at the day of the disaster and previous investigations by Swedish Customs Service found no reports of any anomalous activity around the day of the disaster.
Protection of the wreck
In the aftermath of the disaster, many relatives of the deceased demanded that their loved ones be raised from international waters and given a land burial. Demands were also made that the entire ship be raised so that the cause of the disaster could be discovered by detailed inspection.
Citing the practical difficulties and the moral implications of raising decaying bodies from the sea floor (the majority of the bodies were never recovered), and fearing financial burden of lifting the entire hull to the surface and the salvage operation, the Swedish government suggested burying the whole ship in situ with a shell of concrete. As a preliminary step, thousands of tons of pebbles were dropped on the site. The Estonia Agreement 1995, a treaty among Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Denmark, Russia and the United Kingdom, declared sanctity over the site, prohibiting its citizens from even approaching the wreck. The treaty is, however, only binding for citizens of the countries that are signatories. At least twice, the Swedish Navy has discovered illegal diving operations at the wreck. The wreck is monitored by radar by the Finnish Navy.
On 8 May 2006, the organizations of Estonian and Swedish relatives requested suspension of the diving ban by sending a letter to the governments who ratified the treaty: Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The joint letter entreats all who read it to use their influence to amend, modify, repeal, revoke, or suspend all practical or administrative measures prohibiting inspection of the wreck in order to secure new evidence. The letter also calls for an independent group of experts, working in a transparent manner, to conduct an investigation of the sinking.
Decks and facilities
As Viking Sally
|| Bridge, sundeck
|| Crew cabins & facilities, sundeck
||Restaurant deck – Buffet dining room, a la carte restaurant, bar, outside and inside cabins
|| Entrance & cafeteria deck – Tax-free shops, cafeteria, snack bar, discotheque, air seats, children's playroom, outside and inside cabins
||Conference deck – Conference rooms, nightclub, cinema, inside and outside cabins
|| Car platform
|| Car deck
|| Inside cabins, engine room
|| Sauna, swimming pool, conference rooms
The sinking of the Estonia has been the subject of a number of documentaries in addition to the feature film Baltic Storm, including:
- History Channel: Sinking of the Estonia
- Zero Hour: The Sinking of the Estonia
- Björkman, Anders (2001). Disaster Investigation
- Björkman, Anders,(1998). Lies and Truths about the M/V Estonia accident
- Björkman, Anders,(2004). Estoniabluffen
- The German 'Group of Experts' (2006). Investigation report on the capsizing on 28 September 1994 in the Baltic Sea of the Ro-Ro Passenger Vessel MV Estonia
- Hengst, Frank. Nine people disappeared without trace after being rescued. What happened?
- Johnson, Kent L. & Smith, Kenneth M.Jr. (June 2009) "Failure Analysis of the Estonia." Advanced Materials & Processes 167(6): 29–33. 
- The Joint Accident Investigation Commission, Animated video (4 min) of the damage to visor and ramp.
- Rabe, Jutta (2002), "Die Estonia. Tragödie eines Schiffsuntergangs" (The Estonia. Tragedy of a ship setting), Delius Klasing Verlag GmbH
- Rabe, Jutta (2004). The Case Estonia – A journalist searching for the truth. Video report about the investigation of the sinking of the Estonia.
- Langewiesche, William, A Sea Story, The Atlantic Magazine, May 2004.
- Limburg, Peter R. (2005), "Deep-Sea Detectives: Maritime Mysteries and Forensic Science". New York: ASJA Press. ISBN 978-0-595-37604-9.
- Wilson, Drew (2006), "The Hole: Another look at the sinking of the Estonia Ferry on September 28th 1994". Liskeard: Exposure. ISBN 978-1-84685-132-2.
- Ångström, Lars. Report to the Chancellor of Justice in Sweden, 12 September 2006
- Wayback Machine (archived 27 September 2007)
- Passenger vessel Evacuation descriptions, p29. Det Norske Veritas.
- Safety at Sea Ltd (UK). A collection of scientific papers on the sinking presented in maritime experts' meetings.
- Estonian/Finnish/Swedish Accident Investigation Commission (JAIC) Final Report
- The ESTONIA accident 1994 – Swedish Accident Investigation Board
- MV Estonia – Accident Investigation Board of Finland
- Estoniasamlingen – In Swedish. Governmental resource of material relevant to the catastrophe.
- The Mayday call from Estonia (audio)
- Estonia Litigation Association – Organization of Relatives and Victims Pressing for Truth through Litigation
- Ferry-Site.dk historic images of Viking Sally and Silja Star
- Jaakko Mäntyjärvi composition: Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae about the disaster
- Photos of the memorial for the sunken "Estonia" at sites-of-memory.de
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