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Estonia: Report Report on 'Estonia' Ferry Disaster Expected In Spring

Tallinn, 21 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - An international commission investigating the September 1994 "Estonia" ferry disaster is expected to release their final report in the coming months.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Tallinn reports the "Estonia," named after its country of origin, was one of the worst ship accidents in post-war history. After the "Estonia" lost her bow during a storm on the Baltic Sea, her car deck filled with water causing her to sink in less than half an hour.

The ship was on its way from Talinn to Stockholm with nearly a thousand people on board. Only 139 people survived.

The investigating commission is made up of of Estonian, Swedish and Finnish experts. At a meeting this week, members announced the final report on their investigation would n-o-t be ready until April at the earliest. Originally, a March release was expected. Our correspondent reports the postponement is apparantly due to a dealy by Swedish experts, who are supposed to evaluate the causes leading to the ferry's demise. The Swedish experts are also expected to give technical recommendations for the future.

The commission is scheduled to meet again today in Helsinki.

So far, the investigation has shown that the ferry sank because of faulty construction of it bow-door locks. The locks broke off in the storm, causing the ship quickly to fill with water. The commission has ruled out that the disaster could have been caused by high speed.

The "Estonia" belonged to the Estonian-Swedish joint company Estline, but was built by German shipyard Meyer-Werft. Accusations against Meyer-Werft are connected with the ship's basic design. The shipbuilder has denied the accusations, and laid the blame on the crew's inexperience and on poor maintenance.

An international support group for victims' relatives and survivors has filed a legal complaint against Meyer-Werft. They also filed a legal complaint against the classification company Bureau Veritas. The group charges Bureau Veritas deems the vessel fit for open-sea traffic, even though the "Estonia" didn't have a watertight car-deck bulkhead. The group is also pursuing compensation claims with insurance companies. These actions are largely dependent on the outcome of the special commission's investigation.