The last word on the 1994 shipwreck of the M / S Estonia cruise ship, one of the greatest maritime tragedies in peacetime and which cost the lives of 852 people, has yet to be written.
A controversial documentary on the disaster produced for the Discovery Channel has just unveiled new relevant evidence that has prompted a joint statement from the governments of Finland, Estonia and Sweden.
The Discovery Network documentary includes new underwater video footage from the wreck site showing damage to the starboard side of the wreck. It is, according to Estonian sources, a hole about four meters in diameter in the hull of the ship, which could not be made from inside.
This hole would have contributed to the rapid sinking of the ship, which ended up at the bottom of the sea 26 years ago in the middle of a storm. After an investigation, the origin of the accident was attributed to the rupture of the bow visor and the theory of the hole was rejected by the governments involved.
The filming of the documentary has been peppered with controversy due to the prosecution of two Swedish citizens, who were charged with violating a maritime tomb. The crew used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to take video images from the wreck.
A joint investigation
"Foreign Minister of Estonia Urmas Reinsalu, Foreign Minister of Finland Pekka Haavisto and Foreign Minister of Sweden Ann Linde have agreed that in case of a new significant information on the catastrophe of the M/S Estonia that has not been reported before, Estonia, Finland and Sweden will jointly assess the new information," reads the statement published by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its website.
The three countries have agreed that verification of the new information presented in the documentary will be made in accordance and full respect of the Agreement between the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden regarding the M/S Estonia signed in 1995. "The fundamental idea with this agreement is to protect the M/S Estonia, as a final place of rest for victims of the disaster, from any disturbing activities," the statement adds.
From Tallin to Stockholm
The tragedy occurred exactly 26 years ago, on 28 September 1994. The ship M/S Estonia was en route from Tallinn to Stockholm when a storm ripped off the bow door. Of the 989 people on board, only 137 survived. Most of the bodies were never recovered.
An international agreement declared the wreck a grave site in 1995 and banned diving there. Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark, Poland, the United Kingdom, Russia and Sweden signed the agreement which declared sanctity over the site. This treaty is only binding on citizens of the signatory countries.
On Monday, after knowing about the new information included in the documentary, the Prime Minister of Estonia, Juri Ratas, said that "a new technical investigation into the new circumstances of the Estonia (shipwreck) must be carried out. In our view, the technical investigation should include underwater observations".
However, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said the new investigation should not necessarily mean that the results of the 1997 international investigation would become obsolete.
"Estonia, Finland and Sweden emphasize that we rely on final conclusions of JAIC (Joint Accident Investigation Commission) final report of 1997," concludes the joint statement issued by the three governments.