Foreign - Tuesday 20.2.2001
PAAVO TUKKIMÄKI / Helsingin Sanomat
Finnish Estonia Commission members still reject explosion theories
Finns see no new evidence that would change their minds
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
- 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
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
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
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