HELSINGIN SANOMAT international

Foreign - Tuesday 20.2.2001

Finnish Estonia Commission members still reject explosion theories

 Finns see no new evidence that would change their minds

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By Paavo Tukkimäki

The Finnish members of the international Estonia Joint Accident Investigation Commission, Kari Lehtola and Tuomo Karppinen, as well as Klaus Rahka, technical adviser of the commission, all believe that the ongoing discussion on the sinking of the Estonia ferry has not brought anything to light that would warrant a re-evaluation of the final report on the catastrophe, drafted in December 1997.
   
The Estonia sank off the southern coast of Finland on the stormy night of September 28, 1994. The rough sea forced open the locks of bow door visor, which subsequently wrenched open the forward ramp, allowing thousands of tons of water to flood onto the car deck, causing the vessel to capsize and sink. 852 lives were lost.
   
The original construction of the locks of the visor was found to have been too weak for conditions as rough as those on that fateful night.

The Finns reject
allegations that an explosion caused the accident. There is no evidence to support the theory.
   
Finnish police inspected the visor after it was retrieved from the sea bottom, and laboratory tests revealed no traces of explosives. If there had been an explosion, Lehtola maintains that it is more likely that traces would have been found on the visor than that the sea would have washed them away.
   
The commission has "stared for hours" at the visor without discovering any other signs of an explosion: burning of paint, dents or tears.
   
According to the commission, the timing of an explosion would also have required extreme skill. Judging by the pieces of metal that were bent outwards, the bombs would have gone off when the visor was at least 30-50 centimetres from the hull. How would that have succeeded, and above all, why, the Finns wonder. The bow would have already been a wreck at the time of the detonation.
   
The Finnish members also point out that none of the survivors heard any explosions. No measuring stations detected explosions either, contrary to what occurred when the Russian submarine Kursk sank last fall.
   
The supporters of the explosion theory answer that it was a matter of blackmail by Estline, the shipping company that owned the Estonia. Another theory was that the ship was deliberately sunk to prevent it from reaching its destination, as the car deck was full of cobalt, Kurds, Russian weapons...

The explosion theory
is a part of a report by the Meyer shipyard which built the Estonia. The German report was completed about a year ago.
   
In the chapter "unexplained damage / evidence" a group of experts led by Captain Werner Hummel and Meyer lawyer Peter Holtappels presents the assessment of British bomb expert Brian Brainwood that the damages to the bow of the ferry are concistent with explosions equivalent to a few kilograms of TNT.
   
However, the report does not claim that explosions caused the ferry to sink. This is because the experts feel the explosions must be combined with the theory of a large hole in the right side of the vessel - a hole that so far has not been seen by anyone, as the Estonia lies on the bottom on its right side.
   
The German report is based above all on the testimony of a passenger who stated that the water rushed in from below. This would only be possible if there were a hole in the hull. In their report, the Germans blame the whole accident on the poor condition of the Estonia: the vessel was in fact unseaworthy due to poor maintenance; the bow and hull both leaked.

The explosion theory
gained new ground when the diving expedition led by American millionaire Gregg Bemis and German television documentarist Jutta Rabe defied the ban on exploring the grave site, sent a diving expedition to the wreck last August and retrieved two samples from the bow.
   
Based on the results of two German and one American research facility Brainwood concluded that the pieces from the bow only confirmed the explosion theory he had put forth previously.
   
Swedish materials expert Lars Ekbom also concurred with the theory, based on the samples. His colleagues refuted the view immediately.

The text in at least a part
of the reports of the research facilities is quite careful: the pieces tell of rapid changes in the structure of the metal, which could have been brought on by an explosion or a heavy blow.
   
Even metals expert Rahka claims that with a proper sledgehammer he can create the same type of "explosion marks" in the structure of metal, and this phenomenon is widely known.
   
And why would the explosion have occurred in exactly the place where the samples were taken? The purpose could hardly have been to let water inside the vessel, as the place is quite a few metres above the water line. And no locks of either the visor or the ramp are located there, so they cannot come into question either, Karppinen points out.

According to the commission,
the "explosion marks" on the bow where the samples were taken were created when the lifting cylinders of the visor came crashing through the sheets of metal, pulled by the piston rods as the visor fell.
   
The lower "explosion marks" at the level of the car deck were created when the visor was torn off and smashed into the bulkhead, leading to the hook of the lock tearing at the bow.

The German
Der Spiegel magazine took a part of Rabe's samples from the Estonia and also pieces of steel from the Meyer shipyard for comparison to the German research institute BAM (Bundesanstalt für Materialprüfung), held as the leader in the field. BAM investigated and concluded that it must answer "No" to the question of whether the samples prove an explosion occurred.
   
The Finns also cite the BAM observation that the paint is intact in the pieces from the Estonia. An explosion is out of the question, as the paint burned away in the trial detonations conducted by BAM.
   
But - according to BAM, the results reveal nothing as to whether the explosion could have occurred in another part of the bow.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.2.2001

Previously in HS International Edition:
 Finland opposes new Estonia investigation 9.1.2001
 Jutta Rabe to file criminal complaint against Estonia commission 11.12.2000
 Estonia dives over: One Eagle heads south 30.8.2000
 Robot camera and divers descend to Estonia wreck 23.8.2000


PAAVO TUKKIMÄKI / Helsingin Sanomat
paavo.tukkimaki@sanoma.fi

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