Researchers Who Explored 1994 Shipwreck That Killed 852 Say No New Evidence of Cause

An investigation into a Swedish-Estonian ferry that sank into the Baltic Sea 27 years ago turned up no new evidence that would contradict the official investigation report, the Associated Press reported.

The M/S Estonia was traveling from Tallinn to Stockholm on September 28, 1994, when it sank, killing 852 people. Only 137 survived.

In 1997, Estonia, Sweden and Finland conducted an official joint investigation into the incident, concluding that the ferry's bow-door locks failed in a storm. The locks failing caused the bow door to separate from the vessel, which opened the ramp to the car deck, flooding the decks. AP reported that the vessel sank only 30 minutes after the initial distress call.

Many called for a new investigation following evidence that there was a hole in the ferry.

Rene Arikas, head of the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau, told AP that preliminary results of an underwater robot dive in July revealed there was a hole in the boat, 22 meters long and four meters high.

However, Jonas Backstrand, deputy director general of Sweden's Accident Investigation Board, said the hole could be the result of the seabed's rockiness, something researchers were not expecting.

Arikas said that, at this point, there is no reason to doubt the 1997 results.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

M/S Estonia, shipwreck, evidence
The M/S Estonia wreck lies on the seabed some 80 meters (264 feet) below the surface in international waters off a Finnish island, and is considered a graveyard, which gives the area protection under the law. Above, Rene Arikas, director of the Estonian Accident Investigation Board, points as he speaks during a joint news conference with Jonas Backstrand, deputy director of the Swedish Accident Investigation Board, in Tallinn, Estonia, on November 16, 2021. Raul Mee/AP Photo

The wreck is resting on a slope on the seabed and its original position has changed over the years due to changes in the seabed, making the hole and other damage more visible, he said.

Despite this, Arikas stressed that researchers currently have no evidence proving the official report on the sinking to be incorrect.

New underwater surveys are scheduled in March-April when visibility is considered the best, Arikas said.

Backstrand said researchers were surprised to find the seabed to be substantially rocky, and this could well be the reason for the hole.

"We don't know how this damage [to the vessel] occurred," Backstrand said, but it was likely when the vessel fell onto the rocky seabed. More investigation is needed, he said.

A separate, privately funded expedition commissioned by relatives of the victims of the M/S Estonia conducted a dive in September. Initial results of that dive are expected to be published early next year.

The wreck lies on the seabed some 80 meters (265 feet) below the surface in international waters off a Finnish island, and is considered a graveyard, which gives the area protection under the law.

Estonia, Sweden, shipwreck, M/S Estonia
Estonian and Swedish accident investigation boards said Tuesday that a dive earlier this year to the wreck of the M/S/ Estonia ferry that sank in the Baltic Sea 27 years ago hasn't provided new evidence contradicting the 1997 official accident investigation report. Above, Rene Arikas, director of the Estonian Accident Investigation Board (left) and Jonas Backstrand, deputy director of the Swedish Accident Investigation Board, attend a joint news conference in Tallinn, Estonia, on November 16, 2021. Raul Mee/AP Photo