Welcome to a chapter of the e-book Disaster Investigation.
2.4 The Accident could have been prevented!
It is not unusual that ships spring leaks in the hull shell plates below the water line. The hull corrodes from both outside and inside. Pipe connections (inlets/outlets) to the hull are also weak points, e.g. from sewage tanks. Collisions may rip open the shell below waterline. Water inflow into unmanned compartments below the water line can be detected by leak water alarm with remote indication on the bridge and in the ECR.
The SOLAS does not require such alarms on passenger/roro-ferries or passenger ships or cargo ships as all spaces shall be regularly inspected. The remote alarm can easily be arranged to automatically start bilge pumps and to close watertight door, if/when water is detected inside the ship hull96 and even the general alarm can automatically be given, if a leak is detected. Had the crew (and the passengers!) been forewarned about water inflow of the hull already at 00.55 hrs, the accident may have been prevented. It is likely that the crew knew that the ship/hull was leaking - they started the bilge pumps - but did not manage the situation. The leak developed quickly into three or more compartments - otherwise the ship would never have sunk. But if the watertight doors had been closed, the sinking would have been delayed or may have never occurred, or you would have had time to evacuate the persons aboard. It is possible that the loss of 852 lives never would have occurred!
The writer assumes that the leak developed through a fracture, which developed in the shell plate due to corrosion or collision. The water spread through open watertight doors. Let's take a look at them. The Final report (5) does not contain any information about these doors.
The watertight doors on deck 0 are located about 0,6 -1,2 meters above the inner bottom/tank top (it varies in engine rooms and e.g. the sauna/swimming pool/conference rooms), in line with a false floor above pipes, etc. The space between the false floor and the inner bottom is the bilge, which is where leak water shall end up. If the bilge fills up to the level of the sill of the watertight door, progressive flooding occurs, when the doors are open. But engines, generators installed one or two metres above the bilges continue to run for a while.
It the bilge had 150- 250 m3 volume and the inflow was 50 m3/min., it takes 3-5 minutes to fill the bilges in the first compartment and then progressive flooding can start through open watertight doors. After 10 minutes there is 500 m3 of water in the ship and the free surface effects of the water reduces the initial stability to zero - then the ship may list <30 degrees, when rolling, and end up with 15 degrees permanent list 2.17.
If the watertight doors are closed and the water is trapped in one compartment only, the water rises to deck 1. Then all electric equipment in the compartment fails, which you would expect should be noted by the crew.
The three persons in the ECR could not have been ignorant about the leakage at 00.55 hrs - 3/E Treu, motorman Kadak and fitter Sillaste 1.48. These persons have never mentioned any leakage directly.
Finnish police interviewed Sillaste on 28 September 1994 1.3. Sillaste stated in the protocol (2) that he thought the 'Estonia' was leaking, as the bilge pumps were running. Sillaste experienced the sudden list, when he was on deck 0 doing some repairs. Evidently a ship does not suddenly list <30 degrees, 2.12 and 3.16, unless something has happened before. Sillaste then went to the ECR, where he observed on the monitor of the car deck in the superstructure, that the forward ramp was still closed! But the Commission never pursued the inquiry about the possibility of a leakage and that the water spread through open watertight doors. The Commission states that the visor fell off first and pulled open the ramp and water entered the car deck and that then the list occurred. But Sillaste was clear in all his statements - the ramp was closed several minutes after the sudden listing.
It is not useful to speculate what watertight doors were open or what doors were closed in the hull. It is a fact that the ship could only sink unless some watertight doors were open or there was a very long damage (fracture) in the side (so that flooding of several compartments could take place with closed watertight doors). Expert Bengt Schager wrote in his reports that somebody stated that the watertight doors were closed after the listing (the accident) occurred at 01.00-01.05 hrs 2.1, thus the doors were open, when the leak occurred. If the doors were closed afterwards is not known - the divers did not check 1.19.
The leakage should have been detected latest 2-3 minutes after it started - electric short circuit in the flooded compartment. It was apparently not possible to close any watertight doors locally 1.23.
According to the Final report one crewmember (3/E Treu) saw water entering at the ramp at 01.15 hrs. According Cable News Network (CNN) on 28 September 1994 one crewmember was standing in water to his knees somewhere prior to the listing of the 'Estonia'. That information was too good (it contradicted the false sequence of events of the Commission), so it is not repeated in the Final report. It shows that the crew lied about what happened or that the testimonies were manipulated in the Final report only to deal with the ramp at the forward end of the superstructure.
The ramp is interesting. It probably leaked a little all the time and water flowed into the superstructure. It was not a problem. The ship trimmed on the stern and listed slightly to starboard and the water on the car deck in the superstructure >2 meters above waterline flowed out through the scuppers at the side. It was normal practice. When the ship started to leak and therefore trimmed on the bow, the water started to collect inside the ramp. It was probably there that somebody was standing to his knees in water wondering what was going on. Why had the ship started to trim on the bow? When the ship started to trim on the bow - say that the sauna and the conference room and the space forward of the conference room were flooded already at 00.50 hrs - the visor came in the waterline and, as it was not weather tight, it filled up with more water than before. This may have resulted in continuous inflow of water on the car deck through the leaking ramp, which collected inside the ramp. As crew apparently were working at the ramp (33), panic broke out among the crew.
Why did the crew lie?
It was apparently easier to blame the whole accident on the ramp than on a severe leakage in the starboard hull side. The crew director of the Estline, Enn Neidre, managed to be appointed to the Commission 1.6 and he probably made up the story about the ramp and the lost visor, etc. They could not state that the ship hull had started to leak through fractured shell plate in the sauna or at the stabilizer. The safety director at the Swedish NMA, Bengt Erik Stenmark, blamed the accident on the Classification societies, which did not do a proper job surveying visors. What he probably meant was that the Class should have ensured that all class items like shell plating and regulatory items like watertight doors were in order. Then Stenmark resigned (or was dismissed) and replaced by Franson.
96 The writer has made the proposal to the Swedish NMA without any response.