Date of occurrence:


Preliminary assessment of new information about the sinking of the passenger ship M/S Estonia

The work with the preliminary assessment is led by Estonia.

Update 22 March 2024

For the purposes of the preliminary assessment of MV Estonia, several studies were commissioned in 2023. The reports of the studies are made available to the public. These reports give an overview of the analyses of the various samples recovered from the wreck and seabed during the marine works in July 2023. Below are brief summaries of these study reports with links to the original materials.

Reports from the Estonian Forensic Science Institute

Three reports from the Estonian Forensic Science Institute cover different aspects of the analyses of the steel sample cut from the edge of the forward starboard side damage of the wreck and the bow ramp recovered in July 2023. The reports conclude that:

  • No traces of contact or collision with a metal object were found on the steel sample submitted for examination.
  • No traces of explosives were found from the steel sample submitted for examination.
  • No characteristic signs of explosion were found on the presented objects (steel sample and bow ramp), photos or videos (ROV videos of the starboard side damage, car deck and bow area) by visual examination.

Forensic Reports External link.

Report on petrographic analysis of bedrock sample

A sample from an outcropping bedrock from the vicinity of the forward damage of the wreck was collected in July 2023. A chip of this sample was cut by Vancouver Petrographics and the petrographic analyze was carried out by the Stockholm University. The report from the Stockholm University concludes that the sample is almost certainly gneiss. This is a very common bedrock in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Petrographic Analysis Of Sample Es1 External link.

Biogeochemical report

During the 2023 survey a number of fouling samples were gathered from the hull. The samples have been analysed by Stockholm university. Stockholm university concludes that the material deposits associated with the front hole on the starboard side of the MS Estonia are the result of natural processes, such as biofouling, sediment accumulation, and marine corrosion of exposed steel. The biogeochemical report can be found here: Stockholm university - biogeochemical report External link.

Technical report on examination of bow ramp of MV Estonia

On behalf of SHK a visual examination of the salvaged bow ramp has been carried out on site in Estonia by Element Materials Technology. The main purpose of the examination was to compare the appearance and damage of the bow ramp with the sequence of events described in the technical report: " MV ESTONIA Bow arrangement collapse - Sequence of events”, Gothenburg, November 2007, Jan-Ove Carlsson.

Nothing has been found during the examination that contradicts the description of the sequence of events described in the documentation, except that the ramp locking hooks are assessed to have been latched at the time of the accident. The separation of the railing most likely occurred as a part of the accident. No evidence is noted suggesting that the bow ramp, or the railings, has been separated from the hull by machine tools or thermal cutting. Report From Element Technology Ab External link.

Update 21 November, 2023

At the end of November 2023, additional surveys will be made of the seabed in connection with the wreck of the passenger ship ESTONIA. The main purpose is to examine whether there are objects on the bottom that have fallen from the sinking ship, which could help determine the exact route of the ship before it sank. The surveys have been procured by the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau, ESIB, and will be carried out by the Norwegian company Reach Subsea AS with the help of Gothenburg University's research vessel SKAGERAK. Investigators from ESIB and SHK will participate on board. Subject to the weather, the on-site surveys are expected to last for two days. They will be conducted with sonar equipment towed behind the survey vessel.

Update 10 October 2023

A small ROV was used for the filming of Estonia's car deck. In order to be able to orient oneself during the work and better follow the drawings, the ROV was driven upside down. This means that the films from the car deck are upside down. The car deck has a staircase or a so-called centercasing which divides the car deck into a starboard part and a port part. A video of the starboard section and a video of the port section can be accessed through the link below. There is also a film showing the forward damage on the starboard side.

External links (Vimeo):

MV Estonia, car deck, port side External link.

MV Estonia, car deck, starboard side External link.

MV Estonia, forward part of damage to starboard side External link.

Update 4 October 2023

In July 2023, further surveys of MV ESTONIA were carried out with the help of the Norwegian company Reach Subsea A/S. The surveys were carried out with two different underwater robots (ROVs).

With the help of a small ROV, the parts of the cargo hold (car deck) that could be accessed were filmed. The footage will be analysed more closely and then made available to the public.

The bow ramp, which previously has detached from the ship, was salvaged. It has been taken to Estonia where it will be subject to further examination.

Some of the metal near the damage in the ship's starboard side was sawed off and salvaged for further examination. A few more metal parts cut from the hull by divers in the 1990s were salvaged. An entire windowpane and parts of another window were salvaged. One of the bow ramp's two preventer wires was salvaged.

A drill sample was taken of the bedrock near the forward part of the damage on the starboard side of the vessel. Stockholm university initially considered that the bedrock consists of granodiorite or granite. Further analysis of the sample indicate that it is gneiss.

Samples have been taken of the growth that is found mainly on broken surfaces in the ship's plate. These samples will be analysed in more detail by Stockholm university.

On September 21, 2023, the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) published its report with calculations of the forces that affected the ship when it collided with the seabed. The report is available here: Numerical Assessment Report Taltech External link..

Update 28 February 2023

The 23 January, 2023, the investigation authorities published an interim report that describes the surveys that have been carried out so far and the preliminary conclusions that can be drawn from them. Furthermore, a large part of the photo documentation from the 2022 surveys has been made available to the public on the website External link..

The interim report draws the following preliminary conclusions:

  • The wreck of MV ESTONIA is in poor condition, with severe structural damage.
  • The location of the outcropping bedrock under the hull matches the location of the deformation on the hull.
  • Based on the evidence gathered so far, there is no indication of a collision with a vessel or floating object.
  • Based on the evidence collected so far, there is no indication of an explosion in the bow area.
  • The Estonian and Swedish investigation authorities have analyzed the factual information contained in the 1997 JAIC report and assess that MV ESTONIA was not seaworthy.

The interim report can be found here: Intermediate report External link.

One of Estonia's propellers. Photogrammetry: Ocean Discovery AB.


The passenger ship ESTONIA sank on 28 September 1994 during a voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm. Of the 989 people on board, 852 died. In accordance with an agreement between the prime ministers of Estonia, Finland and Sweden, a joint accident investigation commission (JAIC) was formed to investigate the accident. A final report was published in December 1997.

On 28 September 2020, film material was published that showed a hole in the starboard side of the hull.

The Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau initiated a preliminary assessment of the new information and requested assistance from the corresponding authorities in Finland and Sweden. The Finnish Safety Investigation Authority and the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority decided to assist the Estonian authority.

The purpose of a preliminary assessment after a maritime accident is normally to consider whether an accident investigation should be initiated. In this case, the preliminary assessment aims to consider whether the new information gives reason to revise the conclusions drawn in the 1997 report, whether new investigative measures should be taken and, if so, which ones.

The three accident investigation authorities now work together in accordance with the international rules on investigation of maritime accidents. During the work, the 1995 agreement between the three states on protection of the wreck will be respected.

Initial investigation measures

During the autumn of 2020, the investigation authorities had the opportunity, in the presence of the film company, to review the unedited raw film material, which in some parts was published on D-play on 28 September 2020.

The investigation authorities have examined MV Estonia's bow visor which is stored in Sweden. The bow visor has been 3D-scanned. It has been calculated for how long the bow visor may have floated in order to assess whether the visor, after it came loose from the ship, may have damaged the ship's hull.

The Swedish part of the investigation team has conducted interviews with Swedish survivors from the accident.

On 18 December 2020, the investigation authorities in Estonia, Finland and Sweden agreed that there was reason to carry out investigative measures on the site. Among other things it was agreed that examination and documentation should be made of the ship's hull, existing damage to the hull and especially the two holes that have not been previously documented. The seabed around the ship should also be documented. Furthermore, it may be necessary to take samples of both the material in the hull and the seabed for further analyses.

Due to this, the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority requested the government to facilitate further investigation measures by amending the legislation that aims at protecting MV Estonia. Such legislative amendments were done in Sweden as well as in Finland.

Pre-survey on site

The safety investigation authorities of Estonia and Sweden carried out a pre-survey at the accident site on 8-16 July 2021. The primary purpose was to examine the condition of the sea bottom and the position of the vessel. In this context the Swedish Accident investigation Authority cooperated with i.a. the Geological Survey of Sweden, the Swedish Geotechnical Institute and Stockholm University. The Estonian authority cooperated i.a. with the Technical University of Tallinn (TalTech).

The work primarily included examination of the seabottom and the vessel with various forms of sonar instruments. Some photographic documentation with ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) was also done.

Among the measures that were taken the following can be mentioned:

  • Multibeam sonar with equipment mounted on ships driving over the area.
  • Sidescan sonar with equipment towed by a ship through the water.
  • Scanning sonar (Mesotech) with equipment that is lowered and placed around the wreck.

The pre-survey was carried out by the Estonian multipurpose icebreaker EVA 316 and the Swedish research vessel ELECTRA af ASKÖ.

Several parts of the survey were conducted by Stockholm University.

Findings after the pre-survey

The data collected during the pre-survey was extensive. Immediately after the pre-survey the following findings were made:

  • The two holes filmed by documentary filmmakers, were confirmed and documented with scanning sonar and ROV-camera. Adjacent to the holes there are a number of cracks in the hull and between the holes there is a longer indentation in the hull which is estimated to be just over 20 meters long.
  • Part of the wreck is situated in very soft clay. There are also sections of the bottom near the wreck with boulders, hard bottom and bedrock. Whether those have affected the emergence of the two holes in the hull that have been examined, is however too early to say.
  • When examining the vessel with scanning sonar, the results indicated that there is an opening in the vessel's bow. ROV examination with camera confirmed that the ship's bow ramp was no longer in place but detached from its hinge brackets and now lies on its side, leaving an opening into the ship's car deck.
  • Other damage to the ship was also documented. There are i.a. deformations on the stern that may correspond to the stern hitting the bottom first.

Results of the pre-survey

The survey conducted with Mesotech sonar was performed by Abbott Underwater Acoustics, LLC. A report on the work has been handed over to the safety investigation authorities of Estonia and Sweden. A link to the report can be found below.

Report Mesotech sonar examination External link.

During the pre-survey, there were seven examinations made with ROV-video. The ROV-videos have been published on the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau’s website. A link to the videos can be found here: ROV video External link.

The ROV filming carried out at MV Estonia was carried out by an Estonian ROV operator who also described the dives in a report. The dive report has been translated from Estonian and a link to the translated dive report in English is found below.

Divers' report External link.

Stockholm University's report on the conditions of the sea bottom at the accident site was published in November 2021. The report states, among other things, that exposed bedrock has been identified next to where the two major damages in MV Estonia’s hull are found along the northern side of the wreck. The bedrock appears from ocular inspection of its texture and visible parallel jointing to be igneous, likely granite or syenite.

Stockholm University’s report is available through the link below.

Stockholm University's report External link.

The surveys of 2022

During the early summer of 2022, a 3D laser scan of MS Estonia was carried out. The Estonian investigative authority procured the laser scan and awarded the task to a consortium consisting of ESC Risk Management OÜ and Baltic Taucherei- und Bergungsbetrieb Rostock Gmbh as the main contractors. The laser scanning itself was carried out by Kraken Robotics.

In June 2022, a photogrammetric survey of MV Estonia was carried out. This means that the ship was photographically documented. The Swedish Investigation Authority procured the photogrammetry and awarded the contract to Ocean Discovery AB and JD-Contractor A/S. The photo documentation resulted in approximately 45,000 photographs. The photographs have been compiled into a 3D model by using photogrammetry.

The analysis of the photo documentation will be the basis for decisions on whether further investigative measures should be taken at the scene.

So far, the work has not revealed any facts that contradict the technical explanation for the accident given in the 1997 report of the Interim International Commission of Inquiry (JAIC). The surveys are primarily focused on finding the causes of the damage noticed on the starboard side of the ship (and which became visible because the ship has turned around 13 degrees over the years). However, there is also reason to try to straighten out some of the question marks that have been raised over the years regarding the accident.

In that context, SHK has, among other things, asked questions about whether the Swedish Armed Forces has any information that can shed light on the course of events, as well as whether there is information about the transports of military equipment that took place on Estonia and previously have been subject to review. SHK has not yet made a final analysis or assessment of the answers given by the Swedish Armed Forces.

Response From Armed Forces 20221230 External link.

Chairperson in Sweden

Jonas Bäckstrand

Investigator in charge in Sweden

Jörgen Zachau

Page information

Last updated:
17 May 2024