Documentary makers face retrial for visiting Estonia ferry wreckage

Documentary makers who claim Estonia ferry was sunk by a Russian submarine face retrial for visiting wreckage where 852 died

  • MS Estonia ferry sank in the Baltic Sea near Finland in 1994, killing 852 people
  • Sweden, Estonia and Finland agreed in 1995 to designate it a final resting place 
  • Filmmakers Henrik Evertsson and Linus Andersson filmed the wreck in 2019
  • They were acquitted for breaking the ‘Estonia law’ last year but will be retried 

Two filmmakers are facing a retrial after being acquitted for capturing footage of the MS Estonia ferry wreck they claimed may have been sunk by Russian submarines. 

The ferry sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994, killing 852 people in one of the 20th century’s worst maritime disasters.

After deciding not to salvage the wreck, Sweden, Estonia and Finland agreed in 1995 to designate it a final resting place and make it illegal to disturb the site.

Britain was the only non-Baltic state to sign the 1995 Estonia Agreement, which designated the wreck a sea grave and banned anybody from approaching it. 

In 2019, a film crew sent a remote-operated camera to the ship while filming a documentary that aired the following year, revealing a gaping 13ft hole in the ship’s hull and casting doubt on the findings of an official investigation into the sinking.

The Gothenburg district court found in February 2021 that the documentary’s director Henrik Evertsson and deep-sea analyst Linus Andersson — both Swedes — had committed actions punishable under the so-called ‘Estonia Law’.

However, it ruled they could not be held accountable since they were on a German-flagged ship in international waters at the time. 

While several countries have signed on to the 1995 accord, Germany has not. But the Gota Court of Appeal today sent the case back to the lower court for a retrial. 

Two filmmakers are facing a retrial after being acquitted for capturing footage of the MS Estonia ferry wreck that showed a gaping 13ft hole may have caused it to sink. Pictured: the bow door of the ferry is lifted up from the bottom of the sea, off Uto Island, in the Baltic Sea, near Finland, in November 1994

The Gothenburg district court found in February 2021 that documentary director Henrik Evertsson (pictured) and deep-sea analyst Linus Andersson — both Swedes — had committed actions punishable under the so-called ‘Estonia Law’

The passenger and car ferry in Finnish waters in the early hours of September 28, 1994, while en route from Tallinn to Stockholm in Europe’s worst peacetime shipping disaster. The ship went down in just one hour, leaving only 137 survivors

The MS Estonia was some five hours into its overnight voyage from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, to Stockholm in Sweden when its captain, Arvo Andresson, noticed the first indications of trouble.

The ship had begun to list to starboard and, as it ploughed on through waves whipped up by gale-force winds to a height of 20ft, it was getting progressively worse.

By 1.50am on that September night in 1994, the 515ft ferry — the length of 12 double-decker buses parked end to end — was on its side and starting to turn turtle, and the crew had sent out the last of an increasingly frantic series of Mayday calls to other ships in the area.

By the time the first rescuers arrived, however, the Estonia had sunk, stern-first, within just 25 minutes and was lying on the seabed some 280 ft below the cold waters of the Baltic.

Of its 989 passengers and crew, just 137 survived, and the staggering scale of the death toll triggered headlines around the world. 

With 852 lives lost, it was the second deadliest peacetime sinking of a European ship after the Titanic.

It argued that ‘the Estonia Law does apply’ because the filmmakers are Swedish, even though the dives were conducted from a German boat.

The two face a fine or up to two years in prison.

The original inquiry into the disaster concluded that it was caused by the bow door of the ship being wrenched open in heavy seas, allowing water to gush into the car deck.

Experts however told the filmmakers that only a massive external force would be strong enough to cause the rupture, raising questions about what really happened.

‘I believe the truth is something other than what people have been told until now,’ survivor Carl Eric Reintamm told the programme.

Survivors described hearing a loud bang and Reintamm said he saw a large white object in the water next to the ferry, testimony which experts interviewed in the programme said has not been taken into account before now. 

The passenger and car ferry in Finnish waters in the early hours of September 28, 1994, while en route from Tallinn, Estonia, to Stockholm, Sweden, in Europe’s worst peacetime shipping disaster.  

The ship went down in just one hour, leaving only 137 survivors.

Survivors and relatives of those killed have fought for over two decades for a fuller investigation, though the countries involved had been reluctant to re-examine the issue.

Some claimed that the opening of the bow visor would not have caused the vessel to sink as quickly as it did. 

The documentary reveals that an official Swedish report admitted that the MS Estonia had been used by Swedish forces to smuggle Russian military technology out of the Estonian capital of Tallinn in the weeks before the sinking.

It also reports allegations made by Swedish customs boss Lennart Henriksson that MI6 had been involved in this highly sensitive and potentially very dangerous smuggling operation.

The television show names known MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson as confirming this story to investigative reporter Stephen Davis in 1998.

In the show, Tomlinson’s evidence is backed up by another unidentified MI6 agent, who told Davis that the ferry was carrying information about a then cutting-edge Russian ballistic missile programme.

This agent also claimed that the Russians had warned the West to end its smuggling activities or face unspecified consequences.

The documentary-makers interviewed two witnesses who claim they saw military trucks and soldiers swarming around the Estonia on the day of its departure from Tallinn.

Following the documentary, the laws banning dives were amended in order to allow a re-examination of the wreck.

In July 2021, Sweden and Estonia opened a fresh investigation. 

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