Welcome to a chapter of the e-book Disaster Investigation.
4.2 New Information by the Finnish Delegation of the Commission September 1999
The Finns thus stated in September 1999, after informally having re-opened the investigation, that a wooden block on a board from a damaged pallet had got stuck between the ramp and frame at the forward end of the superstructure, which looked like an orange 'box' on the video film of 9 October 1994. As it is now established that the ramp may not have been open during the accident at all, the writers sent an e-mail to the Finns on 29 September 1999 to find out more. Lehtola surprisingly replied on 25 October. Some questions were about the ramp:
"When was the ramp pulled fully open by the visor (that fell off)? At 01.15 hrs? When was the ramp closed again? Expert Huss has in one Supplement stated that it should have taken 28 minutes to fill up the car deck with 2 000 tons of water and that then the ship capsizes. The Final report states that 4 000 tons of water came in during 16 minutes through the bow opening without the ship capsizing 1.9 and then the deck house was filled with 14 000 tons of water in two minutes. In both cases the ramp is considered to be fully open. But survivors saw the ramp closed before the ship sank. Can you clarify this?
Reply by Lehtola:
"The ramp was pulled fully open, when the visor fell into the sea (at 01.15 hrs) and was partly closed again, when the ship sank on the stern at an angle of about 45 degrees (at 01.52 hrs). At that time the ship had capsized (sic) and was lying almost upside down. Thus the ramp was hanging downward in its hinges, compare linen that hangs from a washing line."
Lehtola thus states that the ramp protecting the opening in the superstructure was pulled fully open, when the visor fell off, in spite of three persons in the ECR seeing that the ramp was closed two minutes after the sudden listing occurred, 1.4 and 1.30. Lehtola also believes that the ramp closed itself by gravity, when the ship is turning upside down. If the ship actually turned upside down before sinking is not established. As seen in 3.10 the ramp could not close itself, as various items would have got stuck between the ramp and the frame, e.g. the folding guardrails and also damaged hydraulics, 'preventer' wires, etc. And at least one survivor saw the ramp closed see 1.18, when the ship sank and the bow was above the water. But let's assume first that Lehtola is right - the ramp was pulled fully open at 01.15 hrs.
As already stated in 1.1 the following would have happened, if the ramp were pulled fully open:
If the 'Estonia', with unchanged speed (>14 knots) and course forward during one minute, had lost its visor and if the ramp had been pulled fully open, then big waves would have filled up the car deck every fifth or sixth second Appendix 4 due to pitching below the waves. Each wave added at least about 180 tons of water on the car deck, which was pushed inside the superstructure with a forward velocity of about 7 m/s. The whole ramp opening would be filled up, three, four metres above the car deck, when the forward part of the superstructure was down into the wave, all cargo (trucks and cars) should have been pushed aft, light fittings and TV cameras for monitoring would have been torn away, persons on the car deck would have been smashed to pieces. The immediate damage would have been enormous. The waves straight into the open superstructure would have caused an enormous noise. When the waves were stopped by the cargo, the water would spread on top of the deck inside the superstructure, but it is probable that the ferry would trim on the bow, stop and list immediately already after five, six waves - in less than a minute. The ferry would have lost its propulsive power already at 30 degrees list after five waves, would be impossible to control and would stop.
A ship naturally cannot sail with an open bow ramp in a superstructure in four meter waves, Beaufort 7, when the fore ship moves up five metres and down five metres as suggested by the Commission! Then the ferry would have capsized, 1.9, 1.15 and 2.16, in one minute and floated upside down on the undamaged underwater hull and its undamaged water- and airtight compartments.
This is very easy to demonstrate with model tests and one reason the Commission never did any model tests with an open ramp!
But Lehtola still believes that 4 000 tons of water only slowly entered into the superstructure and pushed the cargo aft while causing the ship to heel. The ship never capsized nor trimmed. Later the ramp closed - and the only item that got stuck between the ramp and the frame was a board from a broken pallet with a wooden block on it. The board itself was stuck between the ramp/frame - the wooden block was on the outside. Can we believe that?
"How do you know that there were floating objects like mattresses, overlays and wooden pallets on the car deck? Should they not have been secured or loaded inside trucks, etc.?
Reply by Lehtola:
"Mentioned objects can be seen on the video films taken of the wreck. Crew members rescued from the ship and members of the relieve crew have stated that dirty linen, e.g. mattresses, were stored on the car deck, in its forward part, on an open pallet. The dirty linen dropped down on the pallet through ducts from upper decks. In this connection the same person stated that there were some empty, lose pallets on the car deck".
It is interesting to note that dirty linen was stored openly inside the superstructure on the car deck - on pallets? Normally dirty linen is stored in bins and hardly on the car deck (there are no ducts from the upper deck)! Pallets are used for heavy stuff. Lehtola also confirms that they filmed inside the superstructure, where all above mentioned rubbish was seen. The official position is that nobody ever examined or filmed inside the car deck 1.16.
"Where did the Rockwater A/S divers remove pallets in order to be able to get access? On the car deck?
Reply by Lehtola:
"On video band D13, which were recorded by the divers on 3 December1994, is seen at one hour and 32 minutes from the beginning of the band, a heap of some pallets, which are on the "wall" to a narrower part which leads from the car deck to the ramp".
Thus it is confirmed that divers were on the car deck inside the superstructure. The Final report denies this fact.
"If the divers were inside and inspected the car deck, why wasn't it reported in the Final report?
Reply by Lehtola:
"The divers did not inspect the car deck. They only inspected the ramp locks and the inside surface of the ramp"
Lehtola confirms again that the divers were inside the car deck of the superstructure but only inspected the ramp locks and the inside surface of the forward part of the superstructure. This has been established previously 3.10, but the matter is not mentioned in the Final report (5). And it is not clear how the divers accessed the superstructure car space - the ramp opening itself was too small to enter at the top. The orange 'box' was allegedly stuck between the ramp and the frame halfway down. The box itself is outside of the ramp only visible from outside
"How did the 'box' end up where it is, if it were a piece of a pallet - a bottom board and a wooden block, which floated out through the ramp opening? How could the block be outside and the board get stuck?"
Reply by Lehtola:
"The object in question, the wooden block and the edge of a board from a pallet, is only seen on one video band. The wooden block is not seen on the video taken on 2 October 1994, as the ROV then must be positioned absolutely exactly at a certain position near the lower part of the ramp port side, in order the block to be seen. Based on the design of the pallet the board continues behind the ramp, where it has got stuck between the ramp and the frame of the opening. The opening between the ramp edge and the frame is quite narrow at this location. The block and the edge of the board are not seen on the video band taken on 19 June 1996. Probably the divers have moved the relevant part of the pallet aside, at the same time they moved other pallets and, e.g. removed at least one of the ship's mooring lines, which had got stuck in the ramp, which can be seen on the video band taken on 19 June1996".
Independent observers of the films state that the area of orange box position in the forward part of the superstructure was in fact filmed on 2 October and the box or a board of a pallet was not there. According to Lehtola the divers (in June 1996 or December 1994?) not only opened the ramp a little to remove the wooden block, they also moved other pallets and a mooring rope. But none of it is reported in any dive reports or the Final report (5).
"What are the ship's mooring lines doing i n s i d e on the car deck, behind the part open, i.e. almost closed ramp. Normally there are no ropes there".
Reply by Lehtola:-
"You are quite right that the ship's mooring lines should not be at the location where they are seen, i.e. the ramp opening. It is a fact that they are there. When the 'Estonia' sank, the ropes apparently were pulled off their drums on the fore deck and drifted around with different currents. That the ropes have happened to flow into the ramp opening indicates that the ramp was more open at the time the ropes have floated to the opening. No conclusions how much rope there is on the car deck side can be drawn based on the picture".
Lehtola does not know that, i.a. the Germans have suggested that the mooring ropes were used to secure the lose ramp, which could not be locked due to being twisted 3.15. But it is always interesting to hear Lehtola making up stories - the ropes flowed inside the ramp opening from outside/in and got stuck and the pallet floated from inside/out and got stuck. And later divers inspected the ramp from inside - and found the ramp locks broken, while films released later shows the ramp locks intact.