Welcome to a chapter of the e-book Disaster Investigation.
2.23 Secret Modification Works in January 1994!
No Access to the Stabilizers - except via a watertight Door!
The stabilizers were installed inside a watertight compartment on deck 0 forward of the generator room. The only access to this watertight compartment was via a watertight door in the aft bulkhead or two watertight doors in the forward bulkhead. There was no direct access from deck 1 or 2. If there were a leakage inside the stabilizer compartment, you could only notice it by opening a watertight door. This arrangement was incorrect and dangerous. The reason for the new stabilizers was that the 'Estonia' had changed trade 1993 - from protected coastal traffic between Sweden and Finland to trade on the open Baltic. In the former trade fin stabilizers were not required. On the open Baltic the 'Estonia' was rolling and the passengers became seasick. Thus Estline decided to install the new stabilizers. The Final Report (5) does not contain any information, what was actually done at the last shipyard visit 1994. However, it is clear that the installation was not ready on departure 14 January 1994. Electrical and hydraulic works of the stabilizers were completed at sea. The German group of experts has tried to find out what happened at Nantali in January 1994. It seems that a fire broke out in way of the stabilizer installation works, which delayed the work. The work was later completed at sea, e.g. the electrical and hydraulic works. The Estline master Erich Moik has told the writer that he believes the accident was caused by a leakage in way of the stabilizers. At the night of the accident the stabilizers were activated - folded out - at 00.15-00.30 hrs. Soon after Sillaste 1.3 was called down to solve some 'problems'. From 21.2.3 of the German Final report:
"It is not stated what was done to rectify the problem, but Margus Treu told the English journalist Phillip Wearne in May 1998 that there had been a "stabiliser alarm" at about 00.30 hours, when the bridge tried to activate the stabilisers. It concerned the starboard fin, which did not move out and it took him and Sillaste ca. 5 minutes to activate this fin.
It is thus possible that, e.g. the starboard stabilizer foundation broke and ripped open the bilge strake a short distance - say 2 metres - and a 100 mm wide opening developed. Then about 100 m3/min of water could easily flow in! As the stabilizer box was installed just aft of the heeling tank, it is possible that the shell damage extended into the empty heeling tank, which thus was flooded. Result? Sudden listing!
It is possible that corrosion in the bilge strake was detected at Nantali extending forward of the stabilizer works - into the heeling tank and the sauna/pool compartment. To repair 20-30 metres of bilge strake - in addition to the stabilizer works - would have delayed the repairs by another week (and that Estline had to cancel 7-8 trips). It may be that this corrosion was made a secret condition of class - to be repaired next time (or kept under supervision)? There are no class records in the Final report (5) about the works in February 1994. The possibility of a leak in the sauna/pool compartment bilge strake is described in 2.3.
In conclusion - the 'Estonia' was subject to big underwater hull modifications work shortly before the accident, exactly like the 'Erika' 1999, but the Commission did not bother to investigate the matter. In addition - the hull modifications work was done inside a watertight compartment that could not be inspected without opening watertight doors. In retrospect we know that the Commission had already decided - or been told - to blame the accident 1994 on visor 'design faults', which was the reason not to investigate any other possible cause. Evidently the Commission had no idea on 4 October 1994, when it first announced the false cause of accident, that the 'Estonia' had been in dry-dock 9 months earlier for major surgery in a watertight compartment that could not be accessed properly.