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Welcome to a chapter of the e-book Disaster Investigation.

2.25 Where and when did the 'Estonia' turn? Reconstruction of the Sequence of Accident

The figure in 2.26 was an attempt made by the writer 1996-1999 to reconstruct the last 60 minutes of the 'Estonia'. One assumption was that the original course was 287° at 00.50 hrs and that the speed was 15 knots and that the 'Estonia' then actually was under way to Söderarm in Sweden. Information, which has been published later, suggests that the ferry had another course Southwest (towards Sandhamn?) before the accident and/or manoeuvred around the accident position, but you cannot reconstruct the accident on such statements.

Last Route not established

The Commission never correctly established the last route of the 'Estonia'. One reason was that the other crew (there were two crews working 14 days each) of the 'Estonia' has never been interviewed by the investigators. And strangely enough the members of the other crew have never commented on the findings of the Commission. Even stranger - the crews on all the other ferries on the virtually similar route Helsinki-Stockholm have kept silent about the 'Estonia' route.

The 'Estonia' had sailed about 300 times between Tallinn-Stockholm, old logbooks were of course available ashore, but the Commission never studied these. Who has ever heard about an accident commission not studying old log books and questioning the relief crew about the normal route taken? The old log books would also have shown that certain equipment was not working and that regular safety exercises had never taken place, etc.

The normal route seems in fact to have been crossing the Bay of Finland after leaving Tallinn and then following the other Swedish bound ferries in the starboard fairway south of the Finnish coast.

The Commission suggested instead in the Final Report (5) that the 'Estonia' sailed course 262° along the Estonian coast and then at 00.15 or 00.25-00.30 hrs changed course, only once, to 287° at a position N59°20', E22°00' towards Söderarm. There is no evidence in (5) for any of this. And the information does not tally with, e.g. the information given by the mate and master of the 'Mariella' shown in 1.9 and footnote no. 25 in 1.4.

Sudden List at 01.02 hrs

When the 'Estonia' got a sudden list at 01.02-01.05 hrs due to 300-600 tons of sea water in three or four watertight compartments on deck 0 (the inner bottom) (not at 01.15 hrs as suggested by the Commission), and let us assume that the speed then was 15 knots, it is reasonable to assume that the crew on the bridge initiated a turn to port, South, into the wind, even if there is no evidence for that either (probably the crew was aware of the leakage before 01.00 hrs and had slowed down). That was the last controlled action. Soon after the port rudder and propeller were above the water,106 the main engines stopped and the ship was left to the powers of nature, i.e. it stopped and drifted with wind and current while sinking - probably at 01.32-01.36 hrs. Mayday was sent at 01.24-01.30 hrs, when the ship must have been close to the sinking/wreck position 1.14. At 01.26 hrs the 'Mariella' heard the Mayday. The 'Mariella' was then in N59.30,4, E 21.48,7, i.e. only 8.4 miles from the 'as found' wreck position, and saw the 'Estonia' both on three radars and visually - the lights of 'Estonia' were still on. According to the Master of the 'Mariella' the 'Estonia' was almost stopped in the water - ten minutes later - at 01.36 hrs - she had disappeared (sunk). The position of the 'Estonia' (see the figure in 2.26) at 01.26-01.30 hrs cannot be correct. The 'Mariella' arrived at the wreck position already at 01.58 hrs noticing rafts and lifeboats in the water.

The Position at 01.30 hrs

Calculating backwards the 'Estonia' should have been only about 150 meters from the wreck 'as found' position already at 01.30 hrs, when the Mayday was interrupted and not 1 700 meters, which the Commission proposes in figure 13.2 in (5) 1.9, while slowly drifting sideways with maximum 0,5 knots Northeast (and not >2,2 knots as suggested by the Commission). The visor could therefore not have been lost 1 560 meters West.

Visor attached to the Ship

It is likely that the announced 'official' position of the visor is false and that the visor was attached to the ship, when it sank. The Commission evidently could not state that the visor was found at the wreck: their whole story about the accident would then collapse.

The port Turn 2 500 meters West of the Wreck

Then there are the strange statements of 'fragments' found on 5 October 1994, which should have confirmed the trajectory including the turn 2 500 meters West of the wreck 1.14, but as the Final Report does not report the positions of these 'fragments', they are not considered. The fragments were probably also pure disinformation (to support a false visor position?)

Assuming that the visor actually fell off at the official visor position, but after the listing occurred, the course could at that time have been to Southeast (135°), the speed had dropped to 5-6 knots and the time was about 01.16 hrs. Then the 'Estonia' continued 1 420 meters East during 14 minutes, when she stopped and started drifting, until she sank at the 'as found' position announced in December 1994. Very little water, say 1 200-1 800 tons, had actually leaked into the hull until then at about 01.20 hrs, when deck no. 4 aft (the deck house) came under water (the angle of list was >40 degrees). Until then the 'Estonia' was in a 'fairly light' condition. But then water started to flow into the deckhouse and down into the superstructure and its car deck space through the ventilators on open deck no. 4 aft, the weight increased quickly and naturally the ship slowed down and sank quickly - the stern hit bottom at 01.32 hrs, the bow sank below water at 01.36 hrs. The Commission stated in December 1997, e.g. that the 'Estonia' should have drifted filled with >20 000 tons of water >1 700 meters with an average speed of > 2.2 knots the last 20 minutes 01.35-01.55 hrs. As already shown in 1.9, it is not possible.

The 'Mariella' turned at once - 01.30 hrs - towards the 'Estonia' - new course 208° - but lost the 'Estonia' rather quickly on its three radars - at 01.36 hrs - and arrived at 01.58 hrs at the wreck position, where they found life rafts 1.20. The 'Silja Europa' arrived 50 minutes later, very carefully, as its master, captain Esa Mäkelä assumed that he was going to find the 'Estonia' floating upside down after having capsized with water on the car deck in the superstructure.

False Alarm

Captain Erik Nordlund on the 'Anette' was 35 miles West of the 'Estonia', when the Mayday was heard at 01.20 hrs (sic) on VHF channel 16. The 'Anette' plotted the 'Estonia' in position N59°23, E21°42 at that time, i.e. 0.5 mile East (!) of the 'as found' wreck position. After the Mayday the 'Anette' contacted the 'Silja Europa' per VHF. The 'Silja Europa' asked the 'Anette' to be stand-by on Channel 16. Then there was no more communications on Channel 16 and the 'Anette' continued the voyage to Sweden assuming it was a false alarm.

According chapter 8.10 in the Final Report (5) the 'Estonia' lifeboats, rafts and life jackets drifted in an Eastsoutheasterly direction towards the Estonian coast, where they were later picked up - probably a few days after the accident. In the above reconstruction from 1996-1999 it was assumed that the lifeboats, etc drifted to Northeast for some hours.

No. 1 Lifeboat

There is a strange exception and that is the no. 1 lifeboat - the Man-Over-Board-boat, i.e. the forward most starboard lifeboat just outside the bridge. According to the Final Report (5) it was found drifting outside Hanko on the Finnish coast. It means that that boat should have drifted in a 55 degrees more northerly course than the other boats, rafts, etc. In October 1999 the Finnish delegation of the Commission told the writer that it was the Finnish vessel 'Hylje' that found the MOB-boat at 14.30 hrs on 29 September 1994 in position N59°16.40', E22°52.12', i.e. 35 miles almost straight East of the 'as found' wreck position. The 'Hylje' did not see any other floating objects from the 'Estonia' (all other floating objects from the 'Estonia' ended up on the Estonian coast). The MOB-boat thus should thus have drifted with only 1 knot to have ended up, where it was found, while the 'Estonia' itself, according to the Commission, had drifted with >2,2 knots the last 20 minutes (which is of course false). In spite of the severe weather at the time the 'Hylje' stopped and picked up the boat. The boat was undamaged. The fuel tank was half full! It is thus possible that it was launched before or after the sudden list at 01.02 hrs and that its engine was used for several hours, because you would have expected that the fuel tank was full, when the MOB was hanging in its davits. The Commission has, of course, never commented upon the fact that the fuel tank was half full.

The Visor Position is false

The writer believes today - 2001 - that the first official visor position 'a mile West of the wreck' is false. The visor had probably been found already 30 September to 4 October, but the Commission did not announce the finding of the visor until 18 October 1994 - at the false position - to support the likewise false statement that the visor had fallen off before the sudden list and caused the whole casualty. The reason for the false information was to hide the true cause of accident - hull leakage due to a collision.

Stenström thought he could copy the 'Herald of Free Enterprise' accident, which he had not fully understood. The visor was probably attached to the 'Estonia', when she sank. That was why the salvage operation of the visor was kept top secret by the Swedish navy and that the salvage vessels could not announce their actual positions. One suggestion is that they were looking for something else, when they 'searched' for the visor - cargo dropped overboard prior to the accident Appendix 5. At that time the false wreck position was still valid and no real position had been announced for the visor 1.14.107 The writer also believes that the no. 1 MOB-boat was in fact launched just after the sudden list at 01.02 hrs with several persons aboard and that many of them were rescued 1.46. And these survivors told the Commission exactly what had happened.

All was under Control

Maybe all the officers (including the engine crew (!)) and wives and girl friends were gathered on the bridge. Maybe the watertight doors were closed and the bilge pumps were started and the leakage was under control. No passenger alarm was given. All was under control. And then somebody opened the watertight doors from the bridge! The 'Estonia' suddenly listed. It was 01.02 hrs.


106 With starboard list and port propeller and rudder over water the starboard propeller thrust may initiate a weak port turn, which can be reinforced by giving port rudders. But the port turning moment is reduced by the list. And strangely enough the rudders were found hard starboard 35° 1.16 on the wreck, i.e. after the port turn the rudders must have been hard starboard, which takes about one minute.

107 For five years the writer believed that the official visor position was correct and that the only explanation for this was that the visor had fallen off after the list and after the port turn was initiated. But now it is more logical to assume that the visor position was not correct; 4.3 , 4.4 and Appendix 5. The visor surely was attached to the 'Estonia', when she sank.

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