The ferry MS Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea on this day. The ship was sailing from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm, Sweden. There were 989 people on board – 803 passengers and 186 crew. Most of the passengers were Scandinavian tourists.
The ship first started to sway, then break apart, until it finally sank between 1 and 2 a.m. The crew didn’t sent their SOS signal in English. The ship sank around 41 kilometers from the Finnish island of Utö, at a depth between 75 and 85 meters. The first rescue ships and helicopters arrived in less than half an hour, but found few survivors.
All in all, 852 people died in the accident (501 Swedes, 285 Estonians, 17 Latvians, 11 Russians, 10 Finns, 10 Germans, 6 Norwegians, 5 Danes, 3 Lithuanians, 2 Moroccans, 1 Dutchman, 1 Nigerian, 1 Ukrainian, and 1 Briton). The well-known Estonian singer Urmas Alender was among the dead. Most of the survivors were young and male – no child under 12 survived, and only seven people over the age of 55 made it out alive.
The reason for such a large number of dead lies in the fact that 650 people went down with the ship, while only around 300 reached the lifeboats. The ship sank very quickly, which meant some of the survivors froze to death in the water. Even today, 757 bodies remain undiscovered. The victims’ families demanded the ship be salvaged, but this was not put into practice due to technical and financial difficulties. Sweden proposed that the wreck should be covered with concrete and turned into a tomb, but the project was canceled when it was discovered that there were divers exploring the wreck. An international agreement between the Baltic states and Britain signed in 1995 forbids anyone to approach the wreck, and it is under the surveillance of Finnish Navy radars and Swedish patrols.
It was the worst naval accident since the sinking of the Titanic. Due to the large number of deaths, there were also theories that foreign governments sunk the ship in order to hide the evidence of weapons smuggling from Russia to Sweden. In addition, NATO is often blamed for not immediately reacting to the call for help.