Report of the Committee of Experts formed for the Investigation of Circumstances related to the Transport of Equipment for military Use on the Passenger Ferry Estonia in September 1994


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Report of the Committee of Experts formed for the investigation of circumstances related to the transport of equipment for military use on the passenger ferry Estonia in September 1994

On 16 February 2009 Margus Kurm, Chairman of the Committee, Leading Public Prosecutor, handed in subject report to the Estonian government. It was the result of the Committee studying the latest research studies done by the SSPA consortium and the HSVA/TUHH consortium 2006-2008. The Kurm report concludes:

"The sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia due to the causes and in the manner described by the JAIC is possible, and based on the hitherto collected evidence it must be considered to be the most likely scenario of the sinking of the ship. Yet, the sinking mechanics, i.e. the known behavior of the ship, does not allow to exclude scenarios that presume a hole in the bottom of the hull or entry of water to the vehicle deck other than through the bow ramp. Therefore, such theories cannot be convincingly refuted by theoretical studies based on the existing evidence. If it is desirable to prove that the hull is intact, the exterior of the wreck must be systematically studied and the study activities must be duly recorded. As we know, this has never been done".

In order to reach this conclusion the Kurm Committee points out interesting observations and contradictions of the SSPA and HSVA research. These observations have never been correctly reported by Swedish media that generally, if at all, just said that Kurm's Committee confirmed the JAIC findings!

The Kurm Committee starts with the following assumption:

"According to the JAIC Final Report, the cause that brought about the shipwreck was that the bow visor attachments broke, the visor fell into the sea and the bow ramp opened completely. A large amount of water that flooded to the vehicle deck from the open bow caused the ship quickly to heel starboard."

This means that the hull is intact (the ships floats on the hull) and that water is only loaded in the superstructure. The first observation is regarding the bow ramp protecting the superstructure. Who saw the bow ramp being open?

The Kurm Committee:

The scenario of the HSVA consortium, like that of SSPA and the JAIC, does not agree with the testimonies of the three crew members, who saw the closed ramp at the monitor of the engine control room after the ship had developed a sudden list."

The reason is:

"The (SSPA) Consortium's version of the course of the accident does not agree with the testimony of the three crew members who saw at the monitor of the engine control room that the bow ramp was in a closed position when the ship had already developed a perceptible list. As (the SSPA) consortium took a position that the list started to increase rapidly and exceeded the angle of 10º only after the ramp had fully opened due to detachment of the visor, they presumed that the men were looking at the monitor at the time when the visor and the ramp stayed in a forward-shifted position. When the visor fell to the sea, the men were in the engine control room, but did not look at the monitor any longer.

Such explanation is not convincing to the Committee primarily for the following reason. Like all other people who were awake, the above crew members also remember that the ship was suddenly in a permanent list. Namely that was the reason why the third engineer stood up from the chair and looked at the monitor and the motorman and system engineer decided to leave from the workshop and sewage room, respectively, and go to the engine control room to find an explanation to the situation. None of the men have said that later on, when they were already in the engine control room, a new, much faster and bigger heeling took place. But this is exactly what they should have remembered, because according to the(SSPA) consortium's conclusions the increase in list after the detachment of the visor was more than 10 times steeper (ca 25º per minute) than the slanting caused by the water pressing in between the sides of the ramp (ca 2º per minute)."

So, the crew sees a closed ramp after considerable heeling has taken place and JAIC, SSPA and HSVA suggest that the ramp is fully open. What happens next according Kurm?

The second contradiction SSPA/HSVA is regarding the amount of water that can be loaded through an open ramp according the Kurm Committee:

"There are … notable differences between the conclusions of HSVA and SSPA concerning the inflow of water through the open bow ramp. SSPA tests showed that water forced in through the fully open bow ramp at a speed of 1500-1800 t/min, causing a list of 46º in 3-4 minutes. But HSVA analysis showed 2 to 5 times smaller water inflow, which means inter alia that in 3-4 minutes the ship developed only the list of 10º".

So what happens then? The Kurm report:

"SSPA claims that the list of the ship that has lost its stability cannot increase steadily until sinking, but after the windows of the deck (house) structure break the ship capsizes relatively rapidly. But the position of (HSVA/)TUHH is that rapid capsizing need not take place."

"SSPA claims that the ship which has lost its stability always capsizes first and only then starts to sink. The opinion of (HSVA/)TUHH is that such a ship sinks fully also at the list of about 135 degrees. At the same time, both consortia find that the survivors' testimonies support namely their opinion about the ship's position at the time of sinking."

It would appear that SSPA has found some survivors supporting its idea that the ship capsized and sank, and that HSVA/TUHH has found some other survivors supporting its idea that the ship sank without capsize.

The Kurm report tries to sort out the differences! What happened?

"In the description of the most likely scenario of the accident the (SSPA) consortium has taken a view that before the visor fell into the sea the damaged visor and ramp stayed in a forward-shifted position, due to which water could enter the vehicle deck on the sides of the ramp and the ship developed a list of 5 to 10 degrees in about 5 minutes. Survivors' statements do not support this presumption. Namely, all the witnesses who were awake remember that the ship slanted to the right rapidly. Some people talk about one, others about two or three consecutive falls of the ship, but in any case people remember that the ship achieved a considerable list within a short period of time. The fact that the list angle was not actually inconsiderable, can be concluded in addition to people's estimations (15 to 45 degrees) from the description of the situation, according to which many people fell (also from the bed to the floor) or things fell (tables, chairs, cupboards, wall mirrors etc.) around them".

The Kurm report fails to point out that after the initial heeling 300 persons managed to get out to open deck 7 port and a few persons to deck 7 starboard during at least 10 minutes! To do that the list must have been less than 15°!

But the Kurm report observes correctly that:

"It was concluded on the basis of (SSPA) model tests that at 01:24 the list of the ship had to be about 70º and at 01:29 about 90º. Based on the simulations, the list angles should have been 45 and 100 degrees, respectively.

At the same time, there is a recorded emergency call from the Estonia at 01:24.46, where the navigator says: "We have a problem, a bad list to the right side. I believe that it was 20...30 degrees."

It is hard to believe that the navigator who made the emergency call was so much mistaken in evaluating the list angle. With a list of 70º it is not possible to stand on the floor, because it has become a wall. Considering that the bridge of the Estonia was an open space 27 m wide, the navigator could not stand anywhere at the list of 70º, but he had to be hanging somehow from the control board. It is hard to believe that in such conditions he thought mistakenly that the list was 30º maximum.

It is also hard to believe that at 01:29.27, when the last emergency call was made from the

Estonia, the list of the ship was already 90º, which besides other things means that about a half of the bridge was under water."

The Kurm Committee fails to point out that 300 persons had apparently evacuated to open deck 7 prior to the emergency call.

So what happened then? How did the ship sink? SSPA and HSVA were supposed to explain that!

The Kurm report summarizes the sinking according to SSPA as follows:

"When the superstructure (should be deck house - Heiwa co comment) of the ship is flooded, the ship always capsizes at first and only then starts to sink, i.e. it is not possible that the ship, which has lost stability, would start to sink already at a list of 90º or 120º. Both simulations and tests with the model showed that no considerable trim developed before the list was 170º. Until that time the ship stayed nearly in a horizontal position. Moreover, both simulations and tests showed that the ship stayed nearly in a horizontal position, i.e. it was floating upside down, also some time after the capsizing.

The ship sinks regardless of whether the doors dividing the ship into watertight compartments under the vehicle deck are closed or open. Still, the position of the doors affects the speed of sinking - simulations showed that the ship with open doors sank in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the strength of windows, and the ship with closed doors sank in 10 to 30 minutes after capsizing. The Estonia model, which had openings instead of doors, sank according to the report in about 5 minutes; yet, at the public presentation which was filmed by the Chairman of the Committee the sinking took 12.5 minutes".

Mr Kurm didn't know that in order to sink the model SSPA simply opened two valves in the bottom and let out the air in the hull!

But the Kurm report has some comments about Air evacuation from the hull in simulation:

"Simulation software used (by SSPA) does not take into account the phenomenon of so-called trapped air. Namely, for a ship to sink, the air contained in it must be replaced by water. As there are no openings in the bottom of the ship, the air on the lower decks remains trapped in case of capsizing of the ship and it is compressed by the influx of water. Depending on the volume of trapped air, a ship may float on the water for hours or even days. Simulation programs used cannot take account of this phenomenon, which means that the rated inflow of water continues at the same rate also after capsizing of the ship until all the compartments are filled (Jasionowski, A: "PROTEUS3 Simulations of foundering scenarios", Safety at Sea Report No VIES01-RE-002-AJ, May 2008., page 7)".

The Kurm report should therefore have pointed out that the SSPA simulation used a defective software.

Finally, the Kurm Committee points out:

"The (SSPA) consortium's position that the ship remained on the water surface upside down for 10 to 15 minutes before sinking does not agree well with the survivors' testimonies either.

None of the survivors have said that they saw the bottom of the ship floating on the water surface for a long time. At the same time there are several witnesses who remember that the ship sank under water immediately after capsizing or even simultaneously with capsizing. There are also people who claim that the stern of the ship started to sink already when the ship was on its side. Thus, the survivors' statements in aggregate rather support the version of the JAIC (and HSVA) about the final position of the ship than that of SSPA.

It must be noted here that it cannot be clearly understood from all interrogation records in which order people saw something, from where and for how long they saw it. This causes apparent contradictions and allows several alternative interpretations".

It is sad to conclude this review of the Kurm report that it forgets, like HSVA and SSPA, that many survivors from deck 1 below the car deck and below water line actually reported that water was seen coming up from below on deck 1, i.e. from deck 0 before any heeling had taken place at all. These survivors had all been awoken by a big bang and wondered what had happened and then, when escaping very early, stepped in or saw water on deck 1. That water could never have reached deck 1 via an open ramp on deck 2 forward. The observations of that water is clear evidence that the Estonia hull below water line had been seriously damaged and had caused big leakage that apparently caused the sudden heeling later.

So the Kurm Committee is to be congratulated to have reached the following conclusion:

"Yet, the sinking mechanics, i.e. the known behavior of the ship, does not allow to exclude scenarios that presume a hole in the bottom of the hull or entry of water to the vehicle deck other than through the bow ramp. Therefore, such theories cannot be convincingly refuted by theoretical studies based on the existing evidence. If it is desirable to prove that the hull is intact, the exterior of the wreck must be systematically studied and the study activities must be duly recorded. As we know, this has never been done".

And it is very easy to accomplish. Just check the hull of the wreck below waterline for leakages. It is completely visible above the bottom of the sea. And remember. Ships float on hulls. Ships do not sink when their hulls are intact. Maybe Estonia sank due to damage to the hull? It explains why the three crew members saw a closed ramp of the superstructure.

Anders Björkman (2 March 2009)

 Better is just to forget the shit and carry on lying and cheating as usual!

Anders Björkman (added 17 March 2016)