Welcome to a chapter of the e-book Disaster Investigation.
2.6 Could the Crew have saved the Ferry?
Evidently the crew could have saved the ship, if there were a hull leakage, which was observed already at 00.55 hrs or earlier, and if they had closed the watertight doors. The ship should then have floated on undamaged watertight compartments in spite of the damage. A leaking passenger ferry - water leaks only into one watertight compartment - cannot sink when the watertight doors are closed.
But if the watertight doors were open or opened (!) by mistake, the situation was different - every seaman knows that then that the water spreads to adjacent compartments and the ship loses stability and sinks.
43 crewmembers survived but only six were interviewed in any depth as shown in chapter 6 of (5). None of these crewmembers mentions leakage, except Sillaste who stated that the bilge pumps were running, etc 1.3 - a clear indication that the ship was in fact leaking. Of the six only three were actually watch keepers - Linde, Treu and Kadak. The remaining surviving crew - 37 persons - were apparently not interviewed in any depth about their roles in the ship's safety system - what they were supposed to do and why they did not do it. According the Final report (5) the alarms were not sent until 01.20 hrs, while the accident (the listing) took place at 01.02 hrs - or 01.15 hrs according to the Commission in (5).
There were apparently two junior officers on the bridge, but if they were aware of the leakage from say 00.55 hrs is not clear. However - they must have noted the sudden listing at 01.02/5 hrs, but what action they then did is also not clear. They must have hanged on to the consoles on the bridge or they could have been thrown down into starboard lee. It has been said many times that the bridge extended over the whole breadth with little to hang on to. The Commission has no comments or recommendations. But the bridge was narrow and with many objects to hang on to. No alarms were raised and no Mayday was sent until 20 minutes later.
Interesting enough the Commission suggests that the officers on the bridge closed the watertight doors after the listing. There is no evidence for that - the allegation is probably an invention by the Commission. Had the doors been closed in the first place, the ship might never have listed - or sunk 1.23. The terrible possibility, that the crew opened one or more watertight doors when the ship was already leaking, has not been investigated.
It is remarkable that the Commission never verified if the watertight doors actually were closed. We know that the bilge pumps were started - probably from the ECR 1.3, but the Commission has no comments. You do not start bilge pumps, if there is water on the car deck!
We are told in (5) that the Chief Officer managed to get to the bridge later assisting in sending a Mayday at 01.24-01.30 hrs per VHF, channel 16, i.e. 20 minutes after the sudden listing occurred! The VHF was located at the steering console port side. The radiotelephone was located on the aft bulkhead on the starboard bridge wing. At 01.24 hrs you could not reach the radiotelephone - it was inaccessible due to the list. The very long time between the sudden listing at 01.02-01.04 hrs and the Mayday at 01.24 hrs has never been explained.
From available information the crew on the bridge did very little before and after the accident - the listing - at 01.02 hrs. The bridge is the central control station of the ship. But there is no evidence that the bridge was actually manned at say 00.45-01.15 hrs, except that Linde says so.
Lifeboats made ready
There are many possibilities. One is that the crew on the bridge was aware of the leaking at 00.55 hrs and mustered the Master and all officers to the bridge at that time to discuss what to do. In (33) are testimonies quoted to the effect that some lifeboats were made ready before 01.02 hrs. It seems that at least no. 1 MOB boat starboard side was made ready. No survivor is reported to having been rescued from no.1 MOB boat and it was found drifting intact 33 miles due East of the wreck the following day. As the lifeboats were made ready indicates that the crew took some action before the accident. However, as the Commission decided to blame the whole accident on the visor and that it occurred as a big surprise to the crew (13 minutes later than actual), and that you could not blame the crew. The Commission could therefore not mention any actions before the accident - the listing - and never bothered to find out what actually happened on the bridge, e.g. why the Mayday was sent so late.
What did the remainder of the crew do? Chapter 16.4 in (5) summarizes its activity during the evacuation - actually the Commission states there that crew training and preparation were - or seemed to be - insufficient (sic). That statement is not repeated in Chapter 20 - Results -, Chapter 21 - Conclusions and in Chapter 22 of (5) - Recommendations.
In Chapter 16.8 the Commission states that the crew was seen to methodically opening life rafts on the port open deck. 200-300 persons were on the open deck and the side then. At 01.30 hrs the Commission's chief witnesses Linde, Kadak and Sillaste were sitting in a life raft (33), while 50-100 persons were still on the side. It seems that the crew were the first in the life rafts.