In the wake of a recent documentary that found a previously unknown 4-metre hole in the hull of the Estonia, whose sinking in 1994 became the deadliest peacetime maritime catastrophe since the Titanic, Estonian Interior Minister Mart Helme has called for the wreck to be re-examined and the remaining bodies salvaged. It is about a "humanitarian mission", he says according to Estonian newpaper Postimees.
Helme called it a "humanitarian mission" to dispel the speculations about what really happened to the giant ferry that became a watery grave for 852 people.
"If we are to stop all speculation and say that there are no conspiracy theories, or if what was branded as conspiracy theories is true, we must go down and examine the ship. I'm sure a lot of important evidence has been removed. I do not know by whom, though", Helme said, as quoted by the newspaper Postimees.
While the formal investigation placed the blame on a faulty bow visor that allowed thousands of tonnes of water to flood in, over the decades a plethora of alternative theories have flourished, including the Estonia, allegedly carrying some sort of sensitive consignment or military equipment being rammed or sunk by a submarine. These theories were exacerbated by the Swedish government's decision to drop thousands of tonnes of pebbles on the site amid the inquiry to turn the wreck into a sea grave. Furthermore, the so-called Estonia Act was quickly agreed upon which establishes the sanctity of the site and prohibits citizens from the signatory counties from even approaching the wreck.
Undisturbed, Helme said he wanted to systematically search the ship's interior, including the cabins, as well as take up all the bodies, identify them and hand them over to their relatives for a proper burial.
Helme claimed this would not violate the peace of the grave as agreed upon by Finland, Estonia, and Sweden. He pointed out that the Estonia rests in international waters en route from Tallinn to Stockholm, yet is considered Estonian territory as the ship sailed under the Estonian flag. The Swedish state cannot thus prosecute Estonians who conduct research there, Helme stressed, describing the future mission as a "debt of honour".
While the Swedish authorities have been rather tight-lipped about the documentary that put the Estonia into the limelight again and led to charges against the film crew, the national-conservative opposition party Sweden Democrats (SD) has moved to perform new dives and possibly salvage the bodies. The SD stressed they want new investigations and to "satisfy the survivors' wishes to return their relatives". According to the party, these operations should be exempted from the grave peace clause. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, by contrast, said the Swedish government was not open to changing the law on the sanctity of the grave.
The Estonia, sometimes referred to as the "Baltic Titanic", sank in the Baltic Sea on 28 September 1994, on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm, killing 852 people.