The M/S Estonia Accident investigation
The biggest Fraud in Maritime History
The independent Investigation by Heiwa Co and Anders Björkman

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The independent Investigation by Heiwa Co

Heiwa Co quickly concluded 1994 that the official sequence of events was unlikely - unbelievable - and that the visor must have fallen off after the first sudden listing. The reason was that >2 000 tons of water should have entered the 'Estonia' car deck/superstructure in less than one minute, if the ramp was fully open and the speed was 15 knots and the waves were 4,2 meter high. Then the ship would have immediately (in 30-60 second) listed 35degrees and capsized, turned upside down and floated upside down and nobody would have survived. It would have taken a few minutes.

It would have been exactly similar to the 'Herald of Free Enterprise' capsizing at Zeebrügge 1987. But it did not happen!

The reasons for the first sudden listing (>30 degrees at 01.02 hrs according to a majority of the survivors) must, according to the Heiwa Co findings, have been a heavy leak below the waterline and no proper action taken by the crew except starting the bilge pumps. The leakage apparently started already at 00.50-00.55 hrs.

The 'Estonia' should have capsized and floated upside down after >2 000 tons of water had entered the superstructure
The water must then have spread through open watertight doors on the tank top, so that the initial stability, GoM, was reduced to nil due to free water surfaces inside the ship hull at 01.02 hrs (three, four compartments filled with about 600 tons of water).

Alternatively - if the leak was a fracture in the shell plate just above the bilge strake, the fracture could have developed forward and aft so that the leak and water inflow spread into several dry compartments, including the starboard heeling tank.

Then - at 01.02 hrs - the ship heeled suddenly >30 degrees in the rough weather, but stabilized itself at 15 degrees heel as expected (the new equilibrium due to the water on the tank top) during many minutes, when several hundreds of crew and passengers evacuated the inside ship accommodation to the open decks 7 and 8. The ship was then rolling severely around 15 degrees list position due to reduced GoM and this enabled passengers to get out - it was possible to walk on the decks, when the ship rolled to port and the angle of list was close to 0 degree. When it rolled to starboard the list was >30-40 degrees and you could not get out - you had to wait, when the ship rolled back to port. Then more water came in below the waterline, the ship listed more, but it did not capsize (it was stable all the time but with a list) and then it sank on the stern hitting bottom at 01.33 hrs. (The clock on the bridge stopped at 01.35 hrs, thus after that time the ship could not move further). Only 137 persons survived. Mayday was for unexplained reasons not sent until 01.22-01.24 hrs - more than 20 minutes after the first, sudden listing.

The 'Estonia' was plotted on radar and visually seen by the watchkeeping officer of the 'Mariella' between 01.30 and 01.36 hrs (when the ship sank) and proper records were made. The Commission ignored (censored or falsified) these records.

Only a heavy Leak below the Waterline could have caused the Sinking

The proximate cause of the accident was thus a heavy leak below waterline at 00.50-00.55 hrs and not a fully open ramp at 01.15 hrs due to faulty visor locks, etc. Evidence supporting this suggestion has been presented in 1999. By checking the underwater video films taken 1994 but not made public until 1998, it is evident that the bow ramp 2,5 meter above the waterline was never pulled open by the visor! It may have been leaking, but no major amounts of water came in there.

The ramp locks and hooks are undamaged!

The ramp may not even have been locked but held in place by ropes and wires! Further evidence is that the visor could not have fallen off, when the ship was upright - it was then kept in place by the lifting hydraulic pistons resting against a strong deck beam at fr. 159, which cannot have been broken (and there is no proof that it was broken). Thus, the visor must either have been attached to the vessel, when it sank, and the official visor position 1 560 meter west of the wreck is incorrect, or the visor fell off at least a fairly long time after the sudden listing occurred.

Even if it seems unbelievable, there are many facts today that suggest that Swedish navy divers assisted with the removal of the visor from the bow below water after the sinking.

The job probably took place between 2 and 9 October 1994 - see above. Explosive devices were then used to detach the visor, but the ramp was still closed! The divers probably blow a big hole in the starboard front bulkhead, when they removed the visor. The area without and with the hole has later been edited away from all films taken at various times. Later, when the investigators incorrectly concluded that the ship could not have capsized (sunk they suggested) unless the ramp had been wide open (the vessel would have capsized and floated upside down as shown above), divers apparently visited again (!) the wreck and once more used explosive devices to try to open (damage) the ramp locks.

This effort failed. Evidently they could not pull open the ramp, as early video films showed the ramp closed, but they tried to damage the locks. In all events - the visor or its lock design did not cause the accident and it is mystery why the official investigators only 'investigated' (sic) that cause.

Hole in the 'Estonia' hull plate
What caused the leak below the waterline is not known. One possibility is that the starboard stabilizer fin assembly - its foundation - was damaged at sea due to bad welding during the installation in February 1994 or that the sewage tanks in the bottom were corroded. The resulting opening - 0,2 m² - was sufficient to allow 50-100 m3/min to leak into and to sink the ship. The German report issued in June 2000 even suggests that the hull shell was corroded in another location and that the double bottom was already flooded upon departure. It is also possible that the bilge plate fractured in way of the sauna/pool compartment on deck no. 0. It was a 'wet' space with a lot of corrosion. The pool itself was of strange design with its pipes inside the double bottom!

Contributing Factors

Contributing factors to the accident were then:

(i) much too many watertight doors - total 22 - in the 12 watertight bulkheads (with fewer doors the ship would have had better inherent safety),

(ii) that all (!) these doors were permanently open (!) at sea and could not be closed locally (!) (which permitted water to spread on the tank top into several, undamaged compartments),

(iii) that the life saving equipment was not in accordance with the SOLAS - only 45% of the persons aboard could be evacuated by lifeboats and life rafts under davits (the remainder had to jump overboard into the water and swim ashore or to a raft - 'wet' evacuation),

(iv) that this situation had not been discovered at an evacuation test in January 1993 supervised by the Swedish NMA,

(v) the life jackets were inadequate,

(vi) emergency instructions were also inadequate, etc., etc.

For unknown reasons the official accident investigators could not admit all these rather stupid matters making the ship unseaworthy (since 1980).

Instead, the head of the Finnish investigation team Mr Kari Lehtola, immediately (30 September 1994) informed the media a completely false wreck position 2 100 m North-East of the true wreck position, which only became known to this writer in June 2000.

According to Lehtola he 'isolated' the wreck! Why this was necessary has never been explained, but as it is now clear that the investigation team told media a false, 'isolated' wreck position, it is probable that the visor position 1560 metres East of the wreck was also false! The suggestion is supported by the fact that sonar pictures of the bottom released 2000 shows the visor at the bow of the ship!

Study a probable course of events (assuming the visor position is correct - it is of course false) from the book Disaster Investigation:

Thus, the ship started to leak at ca 00.50-00.55 hrs and listed suddenly at 01.02 hrs with about 600 tons of water on the tanktop. Then the ship turned about 240° to port during 22 minutes, while it filled with water and sank without capsizing. The visor was lost at 01.16 hrs (assuming the official visor position is true - apparently the visor position is false and in consequence the visor was attached to the vessel when it sank) but the ramp never opened and very little water thus entered the superstructure. During 00.55-01.30 hrs about 3 000 tons of water entered the ship below the water line - into the hull - not sufficient to sink it, but when deck 4 aft came under water at say 01.20 hrs, the superstructure started to flood from above and this caused the ship to sink stern first (see below) quicly. The engines stopped at about 01.12 hrs.

Other information (already available in 1994 but then suppressed by the Commission - a plot of all ships movements around the Estonia at the accident made by Finnish shore radar has disappeared in 1994, but there are many indications that it existed) is that the ship - heading towards Sandhamn - slowed down much earlier and turned to North and listed and stopped close to the wreck position, but then the official visor position one mile West of the wreck is not possible. The plot was in fact developed by the writer in 1996 based on available information at that time and has only been slightly modified recently. The grey area in the plot is the no-diving zone around the wreck. It is not permitted by Estonia, Finnish, Swedish, Danish and English citizens to dive and check the wreck, e.g. that the underwater hull starboard side is damaged.

Strangely enough the UK government forbids its citizens to dive on the Estonia, while there are 1 000's of wrecks around the British Isles where you are free to dive.

Prevention by proper Safety Measures

 The accident and its consequences could have been prevented by proper safety measures:

 The hull plate steel and welding work in February 1994, when installing the new fin stabilizers, should have been carefully checked. At the same time all underwater hull plates and double bottom tanks should have been checked for corrosion including the sauna/pool compartment, its bilges and the sewage tanks. The official report does not include any information about the 1994 stabilizer installation, the last shell plating gauging and the swimming pool.

 All watertight doors in the watertight bulkheads should have been closed at sea.

 The bilge pumps should have been in working condition.

 The life saving equipment should have been upgraded in 1993 - there should have been lifeboats and life rafts under davits for 100% of the persons aboard (now it was only 45%).

 The life jackets should have been of an approved, tested and recognized design.

  Evacuation and emergency plans should have been developed and realistically tested by and with the crew and passengers beforehand. Then the owner should have detected that it was not possible to evacuate 100% of the persons on the Estonia with the actual arrangements aboard. Even an idiot should have concluded in 1993 that you could not have allowed the Estonia to sail in the winter without proper lifesaving equipment - the existing equipment assumed that the 55% of the passengers jumped into the ice cold sea water - +5° C! - and swam ashore or to a useless raft that manually must have been thrown into the sea from the ship.

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Contact anders.bjorkman@wanadoo.fr