The 1994 disaster involving the ferry Estonia, in which 852 people died, was probably caused by a collision with a submarine. This was stated by Margus Kurm, who in the past led an official investigation into the disaster, following a new documentary by the television channel Discovery Channel.

Using an underwater robot, the documentary makers of the American TV channel made new images of the wreckage lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea and discovered a 4-metre hole in the ship’s hull that had never been seen before.

Following investigations in the past, the official cause of the disaster was that the bow door of the ferry ship had been knocked out by severe weather conditions (storm). Nevertheless, there have always been many doubts about what exactly happened. According to Kurm, the large hole that has now been discovered indicates that the Estonia must have come into contact with another vessel on that fatal night. And because the hole is in a part of the hull that was below the water line, it must almost have been a submarine, concludes the former researcher.

It has also been suggested by others that the hole may have been caused by the ship coming into contact with a rock on the seabed, but according to Kurm the part of the hull in question made no contact with the bottom at all.


According to Kurm, a submarine may have collided with the ferry at the time, but it may also have happened the other way around. As to the origin of the submarine possibly involved in the disaster, the former researcher suspects the Swedes and not the Russians. At the time, Sweden was engaged in military exercises in the same area, he says. What is striking is that, in the year 2000, the Swedish government expressly prohibited American divers from carrying out a diving investigation into the ship. The government used grave rest as an argument: the wreck is respected as a resting place for the many victims who could never be recovered.

Sweden, Finland and Estonia have now announced that they will jointly investigate the wreck in light of the new information from the Discovery Channel. They promise to leave the wreckage alone as far as possible because of this grave rest.

The Estonia disaster was the biggest shipwreck since the Second World War. There were 137 survivors. In response to the disaster, the International Maritime Organisation introduced stricter requirements for the Ro-Ro sector, which had already experienced the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster seven years earlier.

This article first appeared in Dutch on Nieuwsblad Transport, a publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.