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  D. Further Information received from Sweden, Finland and Estonia after the Publication of our Report
21. The Legend of the “Design Mistake”

On 28 September 1994 at 16.00 hours – 14 hours after the sinking – the Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt declared in Turku, that the accident had been caused by a “design mistake”. Shortly later he forced the Seasafety Director Bengt-Erik Stenmark of Sjöfartsinspektionen – see Chapter 6.3.1 of our Report – to resign under humiliating circumstances as he did not react the way the Prime Minister exspected him to do.

When Bildt was interviewed in 1998 by Peter Öhrn’s Analyse Group* - hereafter called the Peter Öhrn Group – he stated according to the protocol: “It was obvious that the bow visor had gone up.” Already on 28 September 1994 at the airport of Turku Bildt discussed this problem with the Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho. It was an important matter to both of them as most of the Finland traffic was operated by ferries with bow visors.

Bildt’s security adviser Jonas Hafström stated, when interviewed by the Peter Öhrn Group: “Carl Bildt wished Mats Odell** to have investigated by Sjöfartsverket (see Chapter 6.3 of our Report) whether there were other ferries trading with the same construction. It was a Finnish design. Carl Bildt said that there was no other explanation for the casualty.”
Carl Bildt made another phone call from Turku Airport and spoke to the Managing Director of Estline, Hans Laidwa in Stockholm, and informed him that the casualty had been caused by a “design mistake”. This means that the Prime Minister, pretending to have sufficient technical knowledge to make such statements, found it necessary to put the mind of the Managing Director of the Shipping Company responsible for the operation of MV ESTONIA at ease with regard to the cause of the accident. At a time when the wreck was not even (officially) found and definitely not inspected by experts!

In the interview by the Peter Öhrn Group, Bildt furthermore stated that his Estonian colleague, Prime Minister Maart Laar, had told him, that “an Estonian sailor on the car deck had reported that the visor had been lifted from below”. Linde was the only sailor officially on the car deck. What he has really testified can be found in Chapter 21.2.2, pages 446 ff. of our Report and what his testimonies are worth is stated in Chapter 18 of this Update. The Primeministers – not having any detailed knowledge - naturely could not know that nobody could not possibly see the visor moving from the cardeck as long as the ramp was closed. To further strengthen his allegations Bildt also referred to “key witnesses in the engine room” – 3rd engineer Margus Treu and systems engineer Henrik Sillaste - who indeed had reported that after some heavy bangs the list followed and that they then saw on the monitor that water was pressing through at both sides of the bow ramp. The ramp was then still upright, but the two expert witnesses could have assumed reasonably that the visor might have been damaged, but they could never have seen whether it “had been lifted up from below” and certainly not that this had been caused by a “design mistake”.

Neither Carl Bildt, nor Maart Laar nor Esko Aho could know on 28 September 1994 – the day of the casualty – if and – if so -  why the visor had been separated from the vessel, unless they had undisclosed information. Nevertheless, they decided in their assumed omnipotence, that the accident had been caused by “a design mistake”. As has been shown, the following casualty investigation carried out by the JAIC followed this prejudice to the bitter end of the investigation and their own credibility. The degree of Carl Bildt’s surety, that the Scandinavian and Estonian authorities would accept his prejudice is vividly demonstrated by the fact that he took the time to phone Laidwa to put his mind at ease. And that he enforced the resignation of Seasafety Director Bengt-Erik Stenmark with the kind assistance of Mats Odell and the media.

* En granskning av Estoniakatastrofen och des följder“ – Delrapport ar Analysgruppen, Stockholm 1998, in translation: „An examination of the Estonia catastrophe and its consequences“ – Part Report of the Analysis Group (hereafter called ‚the Peter Örn Group’). The documentation is available in the Swedish Riksarchive, Stockholm.

** Mats Odell was Communications Minister in Sweden under Bildt. The Communications Ministry in Sweden is the Transport Ministry in other countries.

One month later, on the 28 October 1994, Börje Stenström presented a first scenario about what could have occurred. Börje Stenström was member of the JAIC and head of the technical group of the JAIC. (See Chapter 35 of our Report.) He informed the public - hardly surprising – that the locking devices of the visor had failed. Several weeks later Stenström informed the public that the locking devices had been designed too weak to withstand the foreseeable sea loads and that’s why they had failed – the “design mistake” was perfect – the blame was on the builders of the ferry, the Jos. L. Meyer Yard in Papenburg. The Swedish, Finnish, Estonian Maritime Safety Administrations, the Estonian and Swedish part owners and – last but not least – Bureau Veritas were declared “not responsible” Already 6 months after the casualty the so-called “Part – Report covering technical issues on the capsizing on 28 September 1994 in the Baltic Sea of the ro-ro passenger vessel MV Estonia” was published by the JAIC which focused exclusively on the “Bow Visor Attachment Devices” – the locking devices of the visor – mentioned the “Location of the collision bulkhead and the ramp” as a sideline, however did ignore any other alternative cause against their better own judgement and even went so far as to state in the Preface to the Part Report:

»The Commission has previously concluded that the accident was initiated by the locking devices for the bow visor being unable to withstand the loads imposed during the prevailing speed, heading and sea conditions. This conclusion is still valid.

This part-report covers main technical findings and conclusions. The final report to be issued later will cover also all other factors and circumstances found to have contributed to the development of the accident. This will include inter alia operation practices, certification and inspections, stability information, weather conditions and training. Rescue operations and resources will be covered as well.

The content of the current part-report may be amended and editorially modified as part of the final report but it is anticipated that all facts and conclusions reported herein will remain unchanged in substance

Therewith the “design mistake” was established as a fact and from then on the JAIC maintained this prejudice – with the assistance of the authorities and Government institutions involved in Sweden, Finland and Estonia..

In the following the relevant parts of the interviews conducted by the Peter Öhrn Group with Prime Minister Carl Bildt, his security adviser Jonas Hafström and his military adviser Commander Emil Svensson will be quoted and commented in conjunction with the other interviews:

(1) Carl Bildt – Prime Minister until October 7, 1994 - (Interview No. I/13):
The interview took place in the presence of Gun Hellsvik (3) Minister of Justice and Olaf Ehrenkrona* (not interviewed) – Head of the Planning Department in the Prime Minister’s office.
During the evening of 27 to 28 September 1994 the Bildt Government was celebrating the farewell party in the Prime Minister’s office at Rosenbad** together with their political civil servants. Bildt and some others were just about to leave when Bildt got the message*** that a Finland ferry was in trouble. He does not remember from whom. He turned around and went back to his office and subsequently made several phone calls during the night, among others with the prime ministers of Estonia and Finland. At about 06.00 hours he spoke to his successor Ingvar Carlsson.
At 07.00-07.30 hours the head of the Prime Minister’s office, Olaf Ehrenkrona arrived. In the morning there was a cabinet meeting. It was decided to hold a meeting of the prime ministers of Estonia, Finland and Sweden the same afternoon in Turku.

* Olaf Ehrenkrona in his capacity as Head of the Planning Department in the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the State Secretary in the Defence Ministry, Mikael Sahlin, having been in charge instead of the Minister Anders Björk, are both the key witnesses, however both were not interviewed.

** The 7-floor building housing the Administration of the Prime Minister is called Rosenbad.

*** According to the interview No IV/17 with the Swedish ambassador in Helsinki (in 1998) Holger Rotkirch – the Prime Minister has his own alarm system. See also interviews I/30 - Alf Svensson, II/3 - Peter Egardt and II/19 - Lars Christiansson.

The following was noted on Carl Bildt’s report concerning the Turku meeting:

»In Turku the atmosphere was strange. In the hospital Carl Bildt and the other prime ministers spoke to the survivors, among others to an Estonian sailor* who had been on the car deck. Carl Bildt did not speak his language but the other prime ministers could talk to him. It was obvious that the bow visor had gone up. Already at the airport in Turku Carl Bildt discussed the problem with Esko Aho** because the whole Finland traffic operates with bow visors. This was both a moral and economical question (the extensive transport of goods).

There was not the slightest doubt for Carl Bildt that the bow visor had been torn open.*** Sjöfartsverket, however, stated that this was not possible.** **Carl Bildt became furious about Sjöfartsverket’s paper in this question. This paper should be found somewhere. He seems to remember that he kept it. The Communications Ministry** ** *was the contact level for the Prime Minister’s office to Sjöfartsverket. Carl Bildt passed on his irritation through this Ministry. It is possible that the Government provoked Sjöfartsverket (SFV) to take up the question concerning bow visors.«

* This was Silver Linde – see Chapter 18 of this Update.

** Esko Aho was the Finnish Prime Minister.

*** As a matter of fact the bow visor was torn open – however by explosion – see Chapters 16/17 of this Update.

** ** This was the stubborn Seasafety Director Bengt-Erik Stenmark.

** ** * Minister Mats Odell – Interview 1/27.

The remaining part of the interview deals with questions relating to the recovery of bodies/salvage of the wreck.
The complete interview is attached as Enclosure 26 – in Swedish.

(2) Jonas Hafström, Security Adviser to the Prime Minister up to 07.10.94 – Interview II/23. He left the farewell party at Rosenbad at about 23.30 hours and went home where he was phoned at 02.00/03.00 hours by his sister and informed of the catastrophe. His sister was a high ranking civil servant in the Defence Ministry, then obviously informed already. Subsequently he was asked to attend an early morning meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office which took place at 07.45 hours with Carl Bildt, Olaf Ehrencrona, Per Zetterqvist and himself attending. Carl Bildt reported about the occurrences of the night. Either he had spoken already to Esko Aho*(4) and Maart Laar* or he did it during their meeting. In any event, a meeting of the three Prime Ministers was agreed to be held the same afternoon on the Finnish Island Utö.
From this time Jonas Hafström kept a continuous record of the occurrences of this long day from which he quoted in the course of the interview. A Swedish-Estonian investigation commission was considered. After discussions with his Finnish counterpart Pekka Houtaniemi it was decided to have the meeting in Turku, where survivors could be visited in the hospital.

At 09.00 hours there was a meeting in the cabinet-room and an Estonian-Finnish-Swedish investigation commission was discussed, there were uncertainties about who should be the members. Even the passenger lists were discussed and it turned out that the Swedish Estline was in the same state of disorder as was the Estonian side.
Hafström connected Bildt with Laidwa – Managing Director Estline – because Bildt wanted to have “direct facts”.
Hafström made the travel arrangements and ordered the Swedish ambassador in Helsinki, Mats Bergkvist, to come to Turku.

Carl Bildt was always leading and organising all the time.
At 09.30 hours there was a further meeting with Carl Bildt, Olaf Ehrencrona, Lars Christiansson** and himself and the course for the day was set. The Swedish ambassador in Tallinn was brought up-to-date.
At 10.30 hours Carl Bildt spoke to his successor Ingvar Carlsson***, to whom he had already spoken early in the morning.

* Maart Laar was then and subsequently again the Estonian Prime Minister.

** Lars Christiansson was the media manager of the Government responsible for the complete media work of the Government – see his interview II/19.

*** Ingvar Carlsson was the newly elected Prime Minister of Sweden.

Subsequently it was decided that also the military adviser Commander Emil Svensson should accompany Carl Bildt in his Navy uniform to Turku.
11.00 hours – Cabinet meeting.
12.20 hours – Departure from Bromma Airport for Turku.
During the flight they were informed that the program in Turku would comprise

  • visiting the rescue centre
  • the survivors in the hospital
  • a press conference.

Still during the flight a TT-flash was received. It was reported that an Estonian crew member had reported to journalists that the bow door had been open (before the casualty).
After landing in Turku they were received by several dozens of journalists and Carl Bildt said a few words.
They met the other Prime Ministers is the Rescue Centre. The Finnish Prime Minister stated that the cause of the accident was unknown. Carl Bildt thanked him and asked among other things “what happens to a sinking vessel?” The employees of the Rescue Centre replied that the vessel was resting at a water depth of 62-99 m in International Waters, which belongs to the Finnish economic zone, and that at such a depth nobody could live. What actually happened to the vessel itself was not the problem of the Rescue Services. Emil Svensson (Note: Commander and military adviser to Carl Bildt) said that Sweden had an ROV capable of working in a water depth of up to 300 m.
Subsequently the Prime Ministers had a personal meeting which the Swedish Ambassador in Helsinki, Mats Bergkvist, attended, while Jonas Hafström informed the Prime Minister’s office in Stockholm about the situation.
After the meeting of the three Prime Ministers Carl Bildt gave a briefing whereby he dealt with four subjects, viz.

  1. An Estonian investigation commission which would be joined by Finland and Sweden.
  2. Finland is responsible to locate the wreck. Sweden will help.
  3. It is important to find as many victims as possible.
  4. The sea safety in the Baltic has to be improven. It was further agreed that those responsible for the investigation commission should meet the same evening in Turku.*

Subsequently the Prime Ministers visited the hospital and Carl Bildt met three Swedish survivors.
Maart Laar had spoken in the hospital to three Estonian crew members. They had been on the car deck. They saw a wave which lifted the bow visor up. It was thereupon determined that if this had been the case there must have been a “design mistake”.
In this connection Carl Bildt phoned Mats Odell from the airport and instructed him to have Sjöfartsverket investigate whether there were other ferries of the same design in operation. It was a Finnish design and Carl Bildt was of the opinion that there was no other explanation possible for the accident. Carl Bildt also phoned Hans Laidwa** of the owners to inform him about what had been achieved on this subject.
They were most concerned about the information received from Maart Laar, which only they knew and had to pass it on to others.
At a subsequent meeting after their return to the Prime Minister’s office Carl Bildt reported among other things again about the ‘design mistake’ and that it had to be found out whether this existed on other vessels as well.
The complete interview of Jonas Hafström is attached - in Swedish – as Enclosure 27.

* At this time the later chairman of the Finnish JAIC, Kari Lethola had already been in Turku since about 06.00 hours in the morning and had probably even been on Utö already.

** Hans Laidwa was - as stated above - the responsible managing director of the owners of the  sunken ferry with about 1000 victims and as such he should have been one of the most important witnesses in the forthcoming investigation. He has, however, never been questioned..


(3) Commander Emil Svensson (Interview No. III/9) - Military adviser to Carl Bildt until 07.10.94 – thereafter for also some time for the new Government.

He was a member of the security analysis group in the office of the Prime Minister and head of the Swedish delegation during the submarine discussions with Russia, furthermore he had to analyse the military situation in the Baltic.
He was on the flight to Turku (he says to Helsinki), asked many times “how and why could it happen?” and did report about the danger of the “free surface effect”*. It was his assumption that by whatever means a lot of water must have penetrated on to the car deck and subsequently the free surface effect reduced the stability of the ferry to such an extent that she capsized. “And one hour on this side for this vessel increased the effect additionally.” A few decimetres only created an incredible effect on a large area (such as the car deck).
During the briefing in the Turku rescue centre he was asked many questions about how to locate the vessel, which he did not consider to be a problem, and how divers could enter the vessel (at this time they or at least he did not know how the wreck was resting on the ground.).

»It would have been possible to lift the wreck, first of all the Russians could do this, but also the Swedes would manage. But it takes time and a lot of problems have to be solved. We did not know, that there was a huge hole,** a collision or something could have caused this, that water was found inside this vessel.«

The interviewer: “How was it found out that the bow door (visor) had influenced or even had been the cause of the accident?”

Svensson: “As far as I remember, not at all, but it was simply an alternative, how so much water could have penetrated the car deck so quickly that free surfaces were created very rapidly. The other alternative was, of course, that there was a rather big hole.”

The Navy had a close eye on the wreck from the beginning to avoid uninvited divers from entering the wreck. The Sjöfartsverket is staffed with Navy personnel.
The complete interview is attached as Enclosure 28.

* In this case he referred to water on the car deck.

** It is unknown when Svensson was finally informed about the “huge hole” in the side caused by collision or something. Unfortunately the interviewer did not pick up this subject and did not ask further questions in respect of this hole.

Finally a summary of the Interview No. I/27 of
(4) Mats Odell – Communications Minister up to 09.10.94 shall demonstrate what went on in this Ministry during those hectic days.

»He left the farewell party at Rosenbad at about 23.00/23.30 hours and went home, had not slept long when he was woken up at about 02.30 hours by Rolf Tufvesson* on the phone who reported that the ESTONIA had sunk in the Baltic Sea. He went by taxi to the Ministry where he met Rolf Tufvesson and Jan-Olof Selén**. They started to discuss questions of importance to their area of responsibility, rescue services in the hands of the Defence Ministry, with whom Selén was in contact.
At about 05.00 hours he phoned his colleagues in Finland, Olle Norrback*** and in Estonia, Andi Meister, in order to obtain their agreement to form a joint international casualty investigation commission. Norrback was somewhat reluctant at the beginning, Andi Meister agreed at once and decided that he would be the chairman of the Estonian part and suggested to Odell to be the chairman of the Swedish part since they knew each other well, this was of course rejected by Odell because it was actually contrary to the Swedish legal system. Odell was also in contact with Carl Bildt.
Later in the morning there was a meeting at Rosenbad when among other things Carl Bildt set up a “crisis group” and Odell was appointed chairman, apparently many of the crucial questions which came up were within the responsibility area of the Communications Ministry, the reason for this “crisis group” with representatives of all Ministers concerned was the quick and uncomplicated exchange of information and making of decisions and, further, the integration of the new government into the information and decision process as a matter of fact since Monday, October 3, 1994. Ingela Thalén attended all the meetings of the “crisis group” on behalf of the new government , later also the designated Minister of Justice, Laila Freivalds, attended.
The “crisis group” met daily in a particular room at Rosenbad and dealt with factual questions in accordance with an agenda drawn up by Per Egon Johansson** **according to the demands of the various Ministries. Göran Sellwall** ** *wrote the protocol. There was hardly time for some sleep during the first days.
Sjöfartsverket was instructed to find out the legal and technical provisions to take up the bodies, but it was clear that this was no decision to be made by the old government.
He and others from his Ministry had informal contacts with employees of Sjöfartsverket. He does not remember whether Sjöfartsverket was represented at the meetings of the “crisis group”.
The owners made “remarkable” comment directly after the casualty.
During the first week after the casualty the matter was handed over to the new government. Per Egon Johansson (State Secretary) had prepared an ‘Estonia’ file which was handed over to
Ines Uusman** ** **and Odell offered to assist even after the take-over but was never contacted again. He was not sure whether Uusman and her staff understood the enormous explosive power lying in the unsolved questions. Statens Havarie Kommission was working under the Communications Ministry. Olof Forssberg attended the ‘crisis group’ meeting on October 3, 1994 and reported on the behaviour of Andi Meister at the first JAIC meeting, that he had absolutely no idea of how to investigate such a casualty. He wanted to finish the investigations in two weeks and almost “fell off his chair” when Olof Forssberg told him that it would take at least one year. Andi Meister was anyway unsuitable for this job since the state of Estonia was a 50% part-owner of the company owning the ferry ‘Estonia’. Forssberg and Odell had a very open dialogue.«

* Rolf Tufvesson was head of the Planning Department in the Communications Ministry.

** Jan-Olof Selén was a high ranking civil servant in the Communications Ministry responsible among other things for Sjöfartsverket and Statens Havarie Kommission – subsequently the Swedish JAIC.

*** Olle Norrback was the Transport Minister of Finland and Andi Meister of Estonia.

** ** Per Egon Johansson was State Secretary at the Communications Ministry.

** ** * Göran Sellwall was a civil servant in the Prime Ministers’ Office.

** ** ** Ines Uusman was the new Communications Minister.

End of summary.
The complete statement of Mats Odell (in Swedish) is available.

Neither Odell nor Johansson nor Selén mention the open dispute between their Ministry and the Seasafety Director Bengt-Erik Stenmark concerning the question of the visor locking devices of the many car/passenger ferries in the Baltic which was triggered off by Bildt’s very determined intention to have obtain “evidence” that the ESTONIA sank due to faulty design of the locking devices of her bow visor. A task which the JAIC tried to accomplish by means of their Final Report, however, in vain because the true circumstances having led to the sinking of the ESTONIA with the loss of more than 1000 lives have been established and explained by the lecturers at the AgnEf Seminar in May 2000, the Report of the German ‘Group of Experts’ published in May 2000 and this Update of November 2006.

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