Court case regarding MS Estonia ferry disaster

New judgement obliges Estonian government to take a position.

28 September 2019 marked the 25th anniversary of the ferry disaster of MS Estonia: in 1994 the ferry sank on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm, killing 852 people.
The official cause of the accident was bad weather and heavy seas, which broke the hinges of the bow door. As a result of that, the water flowed into the ship and the vessel sank at one o’clock in the night within half an hour. Only 137 of the people on board survived.

Causes of, and the responsibility for the disaster have been the subject of speculation and conspiracy theories ever since and there are still many possibilities under discussion – from ship’s structural failures to bomb detonation and secret loads of Russian weapons. Since the wreck was never lifted, further investigations would not be ruled out.

The survivors and relatives of the victims have demanded clarity and compensation in various lawsuits; most recently, a French court rejected a claim against the shipbuilder (the German Meyer Werft) and the French certification agency Bureau Veritas that had deemed the vessel seaworthy. The verdict of the French court is final and absolute and it closed one of the main proceedings in the case.

Estonian courts, however, are still facing a trial in which relatives of the victims demand that Estonia should reopen the investigation. Reasons supporting the reopening are the alleged discrepancies in the results of the investigation and disregard for essential witness statements. Members of the investigation committee have publicly confirmed that such basis exist. A request for reopening the investigation was already sent to the Estonian Prime Minister in 2016. The only response came more than two years later from Estonian Ministry of Justice stating that the Ministry is not responsible for reopening the investigation and sees no reason for requesting the Government to reopen it.

In a judgement of October 2019, the court now states that Republic of Estonia must respond to the request of the relatives. For the time being, the court case involves only the Estonian Government’s obligation to respond to citizens’ questions. However, the question remains whether the actual truth about the drowning of MS Estonia will ever be clarified in a credible way. The saga of the most serious civil shipwreck since the sinking of Titanic is to be continued.



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