Eighteen years ago today, the Baltic ferry M/V Estonia sank in heavy seas while en route from Talinn, Estonia to Stockholm, Sweden. Designed for use as a ferry, the Estonia was launched in 1980 as the Viking Sally. Following Estonian independence, the ship was purchased by Estlines in 1993 and was the largest ship flying the Estonian flag at the time of its sinking.
The loss of the Estonia is one of the world’s 10 worst maritime disasters and 1 of 2 to have occurred in the Baltic Sea. The official explanation for the wreck is that the bow door locks failed due to the heavy seas the Estonia encountered and the failure resulted in the ship taking on large amounts of water in its vehicle deck. Eventually the incoming water in the vehicle deck caused the vessel to capsize and then sink. Termed the free surface effect, this phenomenon of a ferry sinking from water flooding its vehicle deck is widely associated with roll-on, roll-off ferries such as the Estonia and could have been a contributor to the sinking of the M/V Le Joola.
Alternative conspiracy theories have circulated claiming the Estonia sank due to the explosion of a secret military cargo being transported by Britain’s MI-6 and the American CIA. Fueling the conspiracy claims is the prohibition of diving on the wreck site which has prevented independent analysis of the wreckage. Conspiracists claim the prohibition is to prevent the true reason for the sinking from coming to light while the Estonian government states it is to preserve the site as a monument to the 852 souls who perished in the sinking. The conspiracy has even made it to the big screen in the form of the movie Baltic Storm.