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8.1 Locating the wreck

The locating of the wreck of the ESTONIA started on 29 September 1994, the day after the accident. The work was performed by the hydrographic survey vessel SUUNTA operated by the Finnish Maritime Administration. A side-scan sonar and a multibeam echo sounding system were used in the search.
The work was hampered by heavy weather. The wreck was spotted on 30 September, the location was confirmed and the position was marked with a buoy.
The wreck is located at 5922,9' N 2141,0' E. It is lying on the sea bed with a list of about 120 to starboard and with the bow towards the east. The vessel is resting in a stratum of soft clay at a water depth of 85 m at the bow and 74 m at the stern. The thickness of the clay stratum varies from 5 m, approximately amidships, to about 15 m at the stern and 25 m at the bow. Below the soft clay the sea bottom consists of stiff boulder clay. The vessel is probably in contact with the boulder clay amidships. The highest point of the wreck is at the stern, at a depth of 58 m.
The side-scan sonograms also indicate that there was debris from the wreck in an area 100 to 350 m west of the wreck.

8.2 ROV inspections

At its first meeting on 29 September 1994 the Commission decided that the wreck should be examined with a submarine Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to ascertain her general condition and whether the bow visor had become detached. This work was performed by the Archipelago Sea Coast Guard Section of the Finnish Frontier Guard. The oil pollution control vessel HALLI of the Ministry for the Environment of Finland served as the operational vessel.
Videotapes were made on 2 October after some delay due to heavy weather.
The Commission decided at its meeting in Turku on 3 - 4 October that additional detailed ROV videotapes should be made for a more detailed view of the damage in the visor and ramp area. These tapes were made from the Finnish Coast Guard vessel TURSAS on 9 - 10 October.

8.3 Recovery of the visor

The Commission decided at its meeting in Turku on 3 - 4 October that a search was to be made for the bow visor. This was done by the TURSAS, equipped with a side-scan sonar and a low-frequency echosounder. The Estonian Coast Guard vessel EVA-200, equipped with a side-scan sonar, took part in the search.
The visor was found at 5923,0' N 2139,2' E about one nautical mile west of the wreck, on 18 October. That it was the visor was confirmed by ROV video-recordings.
The Commission decided that the bow visor should be recovered and brought ashore for a detailed survey. The recovery was carried out on 12 - 19 November. The Swedish Navy mine-sweeper FURUSUND and the Finnish Maritime Administration multipurpose icebreaker NORDICA participated in the work.
The bow visor was recovered on 18 November. It was taken ashore in Hanko, Finland.

8.4 Diving investigation

The Swedish Government ordered a diving survey of the wreck to establish the condition of the interior of the vessel and the feasibility of lifting the entire wreck or recovering individual victims. A commercial deep-sea diving contractor was commissioned by the Swedish Maritime Administration for this purpose. The diving contractor was also commissioned to perform - for the Commission - a survey of the navigation bridge and the vessel's bow area. The diving survey was supplemented by ROV inspection of certain areas. The survey was carried out on 2 - 5 December 1994.
The divers' observations and the ROV surveys were recorded on videotapes and in written reports. Certain parts from the visor attachment devices were recovered from the wreck for investigation. The detailed findings in the various areas are described in the following sections.
The following parts were removed and brought to the surface:

  • One deck hinge bushing housing, most probably the inner starboard one.
  • All three attachment lugs for the bottom locking device.
  • The locking bolt for the bottom lock.
  • One failed hinge lug from the port side inner ramp hinge.
  • Two steel spacer rings from the failed ramp hinge.
  • One EPIRB stowage case.
  • One GPS receiver.
  • One portable lifeboat radio set.
  • One ship's bell.

8.5 Damage to the wreck

Damage to the visor and ramp attachment devices is covered briefly here for completeness of the description and is covered in further detail in 8.6.

8.5.1 General condition of the wreck

No external damage other than that in the visor and forward ramp area was observed on the wreck. Window panels were, however, pushed out in several places on the accommodation decks and doors in the aft bulkhead on decks 5 and 7 were missing. A door in the front bulkhead on deck 5 was open.

8.5.2 External hull damage

Diving and ROV inspections of the bow area of the wreck revealed certain damage to the installations in the bow area which are summarised in Figure 8.1.

Figure 8.1 Summary of damage in the bow area with reference to other figures.
Click image for close-up

The deck hinge fittings on deck were undamaged except for pounding marks on their forward faces. The visor parking support was undamaged.
The deck was torn open from the visor operating actuator openings and forward. The openings continued for some length down the front bulkhead. The deck damage was extensive with uneven fracture surfaces whereas the opening in the front bulkhead on the port side had rather clean-cut contours (Figure 8.2).

Figure 8.2 Damaged deck and front bulkhead in front of the opening for the visor operating actuator on the port side.

The side locking lugs remained in their recesses, engaged on the locking bolts.
The bottom lock bolt housing was torn away as well as the support bushing.
The mounting bracket for the locking bolt position sensors appeared to be undamaged. The sensors were not on the mounting bracket but the magnet was still attached to the bracket on the locking bolt.
Various damage to the front bulkhead was found and in particular to its lower part.
There was various damage to the rubber seals and their supporting flat bars on the front bulkhead and, extensively, on the forepeak deck (Figure 8.3).

Figure 8.3 Broken visor rubber seal on the starboard side of the forepeak deck.

Pounding damage was recorded to the shell plating edges around the forepeak deck and to the ice-breaking stem on the bulbous bow. Various scratch marks were noted on the bulbous bow.


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