Calls continue for new probe of 1994 Baltic ferry disaster

A prosecutor in Estonia on Monday urged for a new investigation of a 1994 Baltic Sea ferry disaster which claimed the lives of hundreds of Swedes, as claims of a cover up continue.

Calls continue for new probe of 1994 Baltic ferry disaster

“In order to find out the answer there is a very simple method: go down there and shoot a film of the ship, as far as it is possible,” Margus Kurm said in an interview with the Estonian daily Postimees.

But Estonia’s Prime Minister Andrus Ansip promptly rejected the idea of a new inquiry.

“The government has no plan to launch a new investigation, nor to request a study of the wreck” of the vessel, which went down exactly 15 years ago, Ansip told reporters.

The ferry Estonia sank on the night of September 28, 1994, as it sailed from the Estonian capital Tallinn to Stockholm in Sweden.

All but 137 of the 989 passengers — mostly Swedes — and crew on board perished, making it the Baltic’s worst peacetime disaster. The wreck, which lies in international waters, is off-limits as a maritime grave.

Kurm said he had never worked out why divers were only sent to the wreck on December 1, 1994.

“It’s hard to understand how after the helicopter accident in Tallinn Bay in 2005 that left 14 dead, divers were sent to same depth of the sea the next day, but in the case of the ferry, which left 852 dead, divers were sent to the wreck only two months later,” he said.

An international probe in 1997 blamed faulty bow doors which gave way in a storm, but Estonia and Sweden opened new investigations in 2005 amid claims from relatives, shipping experts and politicians that the ferry sank after an explosion.

An acknowledgment by Sweden that Soviet military equipment was carried on the ferry on several occasions in 1994 lent credence to that theory. Estonia had broken free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, but the Red Army only left the country on August 31, 1994.

“I got the feeling that many people we spoke to were not telling us the truth,” Margus Leivo, who several years ago chaired an Estonian parliamentary inquiry into the sinking, told reporters Monday.

An Estonian report issued in 2007 ruled out an explosion, at least near the bow doors, but relatives have continued to push for a new probe.

The Estonian government in February this year refused to reopen the investigation after a review upheld previous findings and concluded there were insufficient grounds to start from scratch.

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Grounded Finland ferry refloated and heading back to port

UPDATE: A ferry that ran aground next to islands between Finland and Sweden with nearly 430 crew and passengers on board, was refloated and heading for port, its owners said Sunday.

Grounded Finland ferry refloated and heading back to port
The Viking Line ship Grace hit rocks in in the Aland archipelago. Photo AFP

The Viking Line's “Grace” hit rocks on Saturday afternoon while sailing between the Finnish port of Turku and the Swedish capital Stockholm, shortly before a stopover in Mariehamn, in the Aland archipelago, Finland's coast guard said.

The passengers had to spend the night on board, though there was no immediate danger as it was not taking on water. No one was hurt in the incident.

A tug boat helped refloat the ferry in the small hours of Sunday morning, the coast guard said on Twitter.

After disembarking around 260 passengers at Mariehamn, it went on to its home port of Turku in Finland, a Viking Line spokeswoman told AFP Sunday. It would undergo repairs in the coming days, she added.

Although the cause of the accident has yet to be established, the coast guard said there were strong winds in the area at the time.

The company cancelled its Saturday ferry service, which was to have been taken by a smaller vessel, because of a storm warning.

In September, another Viking Line ferry, the Amorella, ran aground on the same Aaland Island and the passengers had to be evacuated.