THE RESCUE OPERATION
The Distress Communication
The ESTONIA was equipped, in compliance with the old system, with a radio-telegraphy station and a radio-telephone system. The radio installation and the competence of those serving it satisfied the SOLAS Requirements. In addition, there were some 30-35 portable VHF maritime radio-telephones (walkie-talkies) available to particular crew members which were not indicated in the vessel's radio licence. These VHF-sets could also communicate on channel 16. It is obvious that the transmission power of such VHF-sets is much less than the power of the permanent VHF-installations on the bridge with antennas on top of the mast. As parts of the 'Mayday' transmissions were received very weakly and partly interrupted, it has to be assumed that the mates used their walkie-talkies. Also the many disturbances on channel 16 during this time might have played a role.
It cannot, therefore, be excluded that those on the bridge had already tried to get out a 'Mayday message' much earlier. The anonymous information from an A.B. sailor of a large Swedish ferry in the vicinity of the casualty, who called during the "Efterlys"*) TV program in summer 1996 might be a confirmation for this assumption.
*) "Efterlys" is a Swedish TV program comparable to the German program "Akten-zeichen XY ungelöst" which presents unsolved criminal cases to the public.
The sailor reported that they had heard a very weak 'Mayday' from the ESTONIA already about 30 minutes before the 'Mayday' at 01.22 hours which finally triggered off the rescue operation. They had not reacted because it had been very weak and was not repeated, at least they did not hear anything more and other ferries were much closer. When it subsequently turned out that ESTONIA was really in trouble, he and the mate decided to remain silent about the first weak 'Mayday'.
Therefore the first official 'Mayday' was recorded by the Marine Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) Turku, also very weak and very strange, at
01.21.55"Mayday, Mayday Estonia, please."
This in itself already implies the urgent request to (finally) being heard, under-stood and helped. Also on the bridge of the Swedish ferry SILJA SYMPHONY this 'Mayday' was heard and the watch A.B. sailor Jan Öhrn started the tape recorder, thus the subsequent distress communication is fully recorded and the respective transcript, already translated into English, is attached as Enclosure 22.1.365.
The actual distress traffic under participation of the ESTONIA was very short, only 8 minutes, and according to the recordings of MRCC Turku reads as follows:
|01:21.55||Estonia||Mayday Mayday Estonia please (unclear)|
|01:22.34||Mariella||Estonia||Estonia, Mariella over|
|Recorded by SILJA SYMPHONY:|
|01:23.11||Estonia||Europa, Estonia, Silja Europa, Estonia|
|01:23.19||Silja Europa||Estonia||Estonia, this is Silja Europa replying on channel 16|
|01:23.33||Silja Europa||Estonia||Estonia, this is Silja Europa on channel 16|
|01:23.54||Estonia||Silja Europa,Viking, Estonia|
|01:24.05||Estonia||Silja Europa, Estonia|
|01:24.07||Silja Europa||Estonia||Estonia, Silja Europa. Are you calling Mayday?|
|01:24.28||Silja Europa||Estonia||Estonia, what's going on? Can you reply?|
This is Estonia. Who is it there? Silja Europa, Estonia
(now 3rd officer Andres Tammes has taken over)
|Note:||The voices of the persons having participated in the short distress communication on board the ESTONIA have been identified. At first 2nd officer Tormi Ainsalu speaks and then 3rd officer Andres Tammes takes over, while chief officer Juhan Herma is subsequently heard shouting the position. The first words from Andres Tammes are the above-mentioned: "This is Estonia. Who is there?"|
|01:24.40||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, Estonia this is Silja Europa|
|01:24.42||Estonia||Silja Europa||Good morning, Do you speak Finnish?|
|01:24.45||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, I speak Finnish.|
|01:24.46||Estonia||Silja Europa||Yes, we have a problem here now, a bad list to the right side. I believe that it is twenty, thirty degrees. Could you come to our assistance and also ask Viking Line to come to our assistance?|
|01:25.58||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, Viking Line is just behind us and they surely got the information. Can you give your position?|
|01:25.04||Estonia||Silja Europa||...(unclear)... we have blackout, we cannot get it now. I cannot say it.|
|01:25.12||Silja Europa||Estonia||Okay, understood, we'll take measures.|
The statement of Andres Tammes was wrong in some respects, viz. (a) at 01.24 hours the list was at least 50°-60° and therefore they had a blackout of most consumers, because after the auxiliaries shut off at a list of 40°-45° the emergency generator only supplies power to a restricted number of consumers to which the GPS Navigator should have belonged (was installed subsequently and is thus unknown to the yard);
(b) even if the GPS Navigator had not been connected to the emergency generator's power supply, it still would have shown the last position for the following 15 minutes. Consequently, Andres Tammes cannot have been right in explaining his inability to provide the position with 'blackout'. Rather, it has to be assumed that he was unable to look at the GPS Navigator from the position inside the bridge where he was desperately holding fast to something at the high port side, probably near the aft door. In this connection it has to be borne in mind that - straight after the end of the distress communication at 01.25 hrs. Tammes and Ainsalu left the bridge through the port aft door (statement Henrik Sillaste), and - at 01.25 hrs.
Silver Linde and others were already in the liferaft.
|01:25.24||Mariella||Silja Europa, Mariella|
|01:25.26||Silja Europa||Mariella||Yes Europa here, Mariella ... Mariella this is Europa 16.|
|01:25.33||Mariella||Silja Europa||Did you determine their position, is it they who are here on our port side?|
|01:25.39||Silja Europa||Mariella||No, I didn't get any position from them, but they must be here in the neigh-bourhood, they have 20-30 degrees starboard list and blackout.|
|01:25.50||Mariella||Silja Europa||I think that they are here on our port side approximately 45 degrees.|
|01:25.56||Silja Europa||Mariella||Okay, yes, I am just waking up the skipper.|
|01:26.41||Estonia||Silja Europa, Estonia|
|01:26.44||Silja Europa||Estonia||Estonia, Silja Europa|
|01:26.45||Estonia||Silja Estonia||Are you coming to assistance?|
|01:26.47||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, we are. Can you tell me if you have an exact position?|
|01:26.50||Estonia||Silja Europa||I cannot say because we have blackout here.|
|01:26.54||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, can you see us, or?|
|01:26.57||Estonia||Silja Europa||Yes, I can hear you.|
|01:27.01||Silja Europa||Estonia||Okay, we will start to determine your position here now. Just a moment.|
|01:27.07||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, of course we will come to your assistance, but now we have to determine your position.|
|01:27.15||Mariella||Helsinki Radio, Helsinki Radio ... calling on channel 16 ... Helsinki|
|01:28.17||Silja Europa||Mariella, Silja Europa|
|01:28.25||Mariella||Silja Europa||Yes, this is Mariella|
|01:28.27||Silja Europa||Mariella||Yes, have you any visual contact at all with Estonia?|
|01:28.35||Silja Europa||Mariella||We must start and try to find her some-where, it is a bit difficult to say as they didn't give any position.|
|01:28.43||Estonia||Silja Europa, Estonia|
|01:28.45||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, Estonia, Silja Europa|
|01:28.47||Estonia||Silja Europa||I'll tell you our position now.|
|01:28.50||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, go ahead.|
|01:28.52||Estonia||Silja Europa||58 latitude, just a moment ... 22 degrees|
|01:29.01||Silja Europa||Estonia||Okay, 22 degrees, understood, we're on our way there.|
|01:29.05||Estonia||Silja Europa||So 59 latitude and 22 minutes.|
|01:29.16||Silja Europa||Estonia||59.22 minutes and longitude?|
|01:29.19||Estonia||Silja Europa||21.40 East.|
|01:29.23||Silja Europa||Estonia||21.40 East, okay.|
|01:29.27||Estonia||Silja Europa||Really bad, it looks really bad here now.|
|01:29.36||Silja Europa||Estonia||Yes, looks bad. We are on our way and it was 21.40.|
|01:29.39||Estonia||Silja Europa||... you said (unclear)|
|01:29.42||Silja Europa||Estonia||48, okay.|
The original and complete distress communication is available on tape.
At the MRCC Turku there was reportedly the operator/communication officer Ilkka Jouko Kalevi Kärppälä on duty. He states to have heard ESTONIA's 'Mayday' at 01.24 hours and to have contacted immediately the Turku Coast Guard Station Nagu/Pärnäs where the operator Rauli Tapio Winberg was on duty. While MRCC Turku allegedly picked up the first message weak and unclear, the Coast Guard station Nagu understood the message clearly and in such a tone of voice that the distress situation was at once understood. The statement from the MRCC Turku operator is attached as Enclosure 22.1.372 and the statement of the CG Nagu operator as Enclosure 22.1.373.
Note: According to Finnish media reports both stations were unattended at the time in question and the "distress" calls were recorded automatically. See also telephone interview of Captain Thörnroos by Inspector Lars-Erik Andersson.
Also the military radar station Utö did reportedly overhear the distress communication between ESTONIA and SILJA EUROPA since 01.24 hours and did apparently also record the tracks of all the vessels in the wide surrounding since midnight or even earlier - in total 8, viz.
but, allegedly except for ESTONIA. In spite of the radar stations Ossarö, Russarö and Orö having tracked a vessel sailing along the Finnish Coast which they assumed to have been the ESTONIA, however, allegedly the echo got lost due to bad radar weather when being handed over from Orö to Utö radar station. The track, which - according to the Finnish Navy was with 90% certainty the ESTONIA.The wreck position is marked by a cross.
The complete plot which was sent by fax on the 28.09.94 to the Navy Head-quarters is attached behind this page. The comment of the Navy to the ESTONIA tracking, received in December 1998, was as follows:
»Sinking position :
18 M 3 A10 (a20)
Visor position :
59°23' N; 21°39' W
18 M 3 A19
The route cannot be true? Didn't Estonia leave Tallinn at 19.00 hours? There are 2 other Utö observations at 01.40/01.48.
Didn't the vessel sink at 01.45 hours?
Radar station Örö : Received the "apparent" Estonia surveillance from Russarö Radar on 27.09.94 - 21.28 hours in position 18 N 1 C06. The tracking stopped on the 28th at 00.02 hours when the object was in position 18 M 4 A14.
Radar station Utö : Commenced tracking this vessel on 28th at 00.00 hours, but as an unidentified object, which was allegedly lost due to very bad radar weather and only found back at 01.40 hours when the Distress Traffic was overheard since 01.24 hours already. The radio transmission were also very bad and repeatedly interrupted and cut into short pieces.«
In summary it has to be concluded that the track thought to be the ESTONIA cannot have been this vessel, because she could not have made this much longer route within the time available between the departure from Tallinn and her sinking. What remains is the track of an unidentified vessel disappearing from the Utö radar screen at 00.33 hours at a position about 8 nm East of the possible ESTONIA position at that time is shown below.
On the plot below the tracks of most of the vessels participating in the rescue operation are shown. The plot was received from the Finnish Navy in December 1998.
The following entries from the Utö log were also made available:
01.24 ESTONIA radio traffic with SILJA EUROPA overheard
01.40-01.48 Target tracked on Utö radar
01.48 Radar supervisor Eija Viiala lost the target from the screen
01.50 The officer on duty is informed about a Mayday at sea
01.55 PU? on the radar
02.20 The Sea Rescue centre assigns Utö to operate in the evacuation centre capacity
02.50 The fort ready to receive patients
04.20 First patients arrive
06.00-09.00 Medical teams arrive - Mariehamn, - Stockholm, - Pargas, - Turku University Hospital
09.00 The last survivors transferred to Utö, total 23
10.00-12.30 Evacuation of patients to Turku
10.17 Main part of flight squadron arrives at Utö
11.40 The fort ready to receive corpses - Part of the flight squadron - Permanent staff
12.00-20.30 Receiving corpses, total 41«
The complete available Utö log with office translation is attached as Enclosure 22.1.374.
Possible further observations by Utö radar and related circumstances are also explained in Subchapter 22.3.
The other participants in the drama were the watch officers on the bridges of SILJA EUROPA and MARIELLA and subsequently also the masters of these large ferries, both being on their way from Helsinki to Stockholm. On board of SILJA EUROPA was the 1st officer Teijo Karl Peter Seppelin on watch. In his statement, taken by the Finnish part of the JAIC he reported the following:
»It was Wednesday, i.e. the 28th, and the time was about 01.20 when I heard the Mayday on Channel 16. The call was weak and I could not make out the name of the broadcasting vessel. In this instance the radio traffic did not come through as normal, crystal clear. I immediately responded: "Who called and transmitted a Mayday"? After this I got in contact with the ESTONIA. The conversa-tion was initially in English and then the guy on the ESTONIA asked if I spoke Finnish. I answered in the affirmative and after that we continued in Finnish. ESTONIA reported a bad 20°-30° list and asked for help. These details have been recorded in the SILJA EUROPA's radio log and in the ship's log.
The Mayday was received but after that the guy on the ESTONIA was unable to give his position. I got the information that they had a complete black out on the ESTONIA. I called ESTONIA again and managed to reach them. This time the ESTONIA gave me their position which was 59° 22' N and 21° 48' E. The SILJA EUROPA's position at that stage was 59° 32' N and 21° 28' E. After this I called the Master to the bridge and myself started navigating towards the area indicated by the ESTONIA. Simultaneously I started up more engines in order to have full speed.«
The complete statement is attached as Enclosure 22.1.375.
The distance to the casualty was ca. 15 nm and the ferry had to be turned on opposite course.
On board of the Viking Line ferry MARIELLA the mate Ingmar Hans-Göran Eklund was on watch and he reports in his statement, which is only available in Swedish, as follows:
»The wind was quite strong and blowing from WSW with 16-17 m/sec. The sea was rough and spray was over the whole vessel. Our speed was about 11-13 kn.
When I took over the watch at 22.00 hours I saw the ESTONIA at port side about 30° forward of abeam. I saw SILJA EUROPA further ahead of us at starboard side. ESTONIA was proceeding faster than we were, I saw once by the vector that their speed was 14.3 kn which is the highest speed I would have dared during this night. I estimate that the average speed on ESTONIA was 14 kn. Her course at 22.00 hours was almost West and she was holding herself quite well at our side. We steered a little more to the West to have the wind from right ahead, which was westerly.
I saw ESTONIA all the time on the radar. I had a vector every 15 minutes.
At 01.30 hours the master, Captain Thörnroos phoned the bridge and asked how the weather was. I replied something like the vessel's pitching and at the same time I heard on Channel 16 that ESTONIA said one time 'Mayday'. I think that the following words were "blackout" and "heavy listing". I asked the master to come up and that's what he did. I replied immediately to ESTONIA but they did not answer. Also after the master had come up to the bridge I continu-ously tried to get contact but ESTONIA did not answer. Simul-taneously with my attempts to establish contact with ESTONIA I took her radar position ..... .
As soon as the master was on the bridge we altered course towards ESTONIA. The distance was ca. 9 nm when he called 'Mayday'. We could even see ESTONIA visually. Earlier many times I had looked at her through binoculars and knew her silhouette quite well.
After we had heard the 'Mayday' call we saw the lights of ESTONIA. While I was taking care of the navigation, the master was trying to get in contact with Helsinki Radio, first over VHF and then on MF 2182 kHz, both of which failed. He finally managed to get in contact with the shore by mobile phone.«
The complete statement is attached as Enclosure 22.1.376.
There is a similar statement from Captain Jan Tore Thörnroos of MARIELLA which does not say much more, however, in the files of the public prosecutor from Stockholm the protocol of the telephone questioning of Captain Thörnroos on 06.10.94 by the Criminal Inspector Lars-Erik Andersson, Stockholm, was found which is more interesting and the relevant parts shall be quoted as follows:
»A: We had met in a hurry on that evening on board MARIELLA.
T: So it was you that I spoke to?
A: Yes, but it was a little chaotic then, but I thought by all means to have a word with you. (They agreed to meet personally in Stockholm on 26 October 1994.)
T: There are no problems as long as we are inside the Gulf of Finland, i.e. before Hangö. There we go on normal speed, but after Hangö the problems begin.
A: I saw an interview with you on TV when you said that you were making 12 kn?
T: Yes, between 10-12 kn and this is normal speed for us in such weather.
A: After midnight, how high were the waves?
T: 5-6, later it was more 7-10 m.
A: Did you see ESTONIA visually?
A: Did you see ESTONIA earlier that evening?
T: No, not me, because I was not on the bridge earlier that evening.
A: But could she be seen from MARIELLA?
T: Yes, we proceeded parallel to each other and when I came up to the bridge I saw her visually and the mate said: "I am scared. We proceeded side by side the whole evening."
A: And he also followed ESTONIA by radar?
T: Yes, he did and when I came up and we had plotted her, but it is so that we can get much more information, we can plot up to 100 vessels. We can take for example course, speed, passing distance, etc., but we did nothing like this with ESTONIA because she was on parallel course and was no threat to us. It is more the vessels on opposite course that are interesting.
A: How about her speed?
T: According to my estimate between 12-14 kn; they say 15 kn in the mass media, but I do not think that she went that fast. I phoned the mate to instruct him to further reduce the speed because I felt that we were pitching too hard.
A: And just then you got the call?
T: They were calling 'Mayday' and I jumped into my clothes and up to the bridge which took maybe just 20 seconds.
A: Mayday, was this all that came?
T: Yes, "Mayday, Estonia", he called and so he called again, and so he called for us and so he called for SILJA EUROPA, but he - one could hear that he was in full panic. Therefore we got no reasonable explanation, but then they were shooting up emer-gency rockets. But we got no contact with them ........ . This went on for 1 or 2 minutes. Then he called again "Mayday, Estonia" and we tried again to establish contact, but then EUROPA got contact and he tried to call in English "Do you speak Finnish?" We knew that they could speak Finnish. Then he shouted that they "Have 30° list. Blackout !" and again "30° list. Blackout !" Yes, that's what he said.
A: When you came to the bridge did you see ESTONIA all the time?
T: Then I saw ESTONIA exactly. The mate pointed to her and said: "There she is." She was then ca. 45° to port of our head-on line.
T: 9 nm. A: 9 nm and then you changed course?
T: Then we changed course, because before we had contact with them we did not know what had happened.
A: Did you see when the vessel disappeared?
T: Yes, ........ At first all the lights were blinking and then extinguished altogether. From then on it remained completely dark. But we still saw her on the radar. We continued to proceed towards her and when the distance was between 4-5 nm she disappeared from the radar screen, but came back and so on due to the bad weather. But between 4 and 5 nm distance there was no more radar contact. After 40 minutes we sighted the first liferafts.
It looked like a tumbled over Christmas tree with lots of small lights. Then we understood that these were the lights of liferafts and lifebuoys. We could do no more but stop and then we heard from people on deck that that they were shouting in the water.
SILJA EUROPA came about 1/2 hour after us and we reported to them what we saw .....
SYMPHONY and ISABELLA arrived somewhat later.
Another matter is, I believe, worth mentioning and which should be remembered by you, who are investigating this here, it concerns the alerting. After they had called out the emergency messages it was only EUROPA and we who confirmed to them, and we really had big problems establishing contact with the coastal stations. It is not as they told the media that they picked up the emergency messages. They did not do that. They did not do that before we called them over mobile phone. EUROPA phoned Turku by mobile phone and we phoned Helsinki by mobile phone. After they had sent out the emergency messages it was just EUROPA and we who replied to them.
A: Does this mean that the Rescue Services ashore never confirmed the receipt?
T: They never confirmed anything.
A: Not the receipt of the messages?
T: No, they never did so before we stirred them up by mobile phone. At first we didn't even know whom to call.
We tried at once after he had received the information from ESTONIA about her position and so on, and after the contact was interrupted we both tried, we and EUROPA, to contact MRCC and Helsinki Radio, Mariehamn radio. At first over VHF Channel 16, the emergency channel. No reaction at all. Nobody was listening in and not even in Stockholm. So we changed over to 2182, which covers the whole Baltic Sea, and were calling and calling. No contact whatsoever. The only thing we heard was somebody else calling. He spoke to EUROPA thereafter. He heard that we were calling and we heard that he was calling, but there was no reaction from ashore.
A: That means in summary that ESTONIA was sending a Mayday which was immediately only received by MARIELLA and EUROPA. It was just you two confirming receipt?
T: Yes, that was, in any event, what we heard.
A: You then tried to contact the Rescue Services?
A: Both in Finland and in Sweden.
A: And you did not get any reply?
A: And then you used a mobile phone to phone the Rescue Services in Finland?
T: To phone the Rescue Services in Finland and EUROPA they did the same independently of each other. They decided to phone Turku and we decided to phone Helsinki. Subsequently they went out with a PAN PAN message which means 'Man Over Board' and only later with 'Mayday' after they had sent out the PAN PAN. This was Helsinki Radio.
A: What's the name of this message?
T: PAN PAN. It is not as heavy as a 'Mayday' call. This is used when somebody has fallen overboard, for example, when there is no danger for the vessel itself.
A: So, this came from Helsinki Radio?
T: Yes, this came from Helsinki and subsequently I knew that they later also came out with a 'Mayday' relay which we did not hear ourselves, but EUROPA heard it.
A: All this has to be discussed in detail when you come to Stockholm.
A: But I know from you already that in any event it had been very difficult to get in contact with the Rescues Services.
T: We had co-operated a lot with them and it was not the first time that we had to use the mobile phone.
A: Yes, and was it the same with Sweden, with Stockholm?
T: Yes, however, since we were on the Finnish side we should not alert Sweden unless there are particular circumstances, but as we did not know what had happened. The only thing we knew when we alerted the Rescue Services was that they had sent out a 'Mayday'. Then we had no idea what had happened and we still could see the ferry and could not imagine that such a catastrophe had happened.
T: This is also something which we did not tell the media and have just discussed between ourselves, thus it has not in fact reached the outside yet.
A: No, this is good so. We will keep this to ourselves during the investigation.
It was agreed to meet at Thörnroos's next visit to Stockholm when also the mate Ingmar Eklund should be heard. The protocols of these meetings are not available. The complete protocol of the telephone interview is attached as Enclosure 22.1.377.
Note: Based on the above statement of Captain Thörnroos which is confirmed by the statement of mate Ingmar Eklund - Enclosure 22.1.376 - it has to be assumed that the statements of the operators on duty at MRCC Turku, Ilkka Jouko Kalevi Kärppälä, and at the Coast Guard station Nagu/Pärnäs, Rauli Tapio Winberg, must be wrong. Reportedly it had been admitted in the media that the Mayday calls were recorded automatically, but that actually nobody had been on watch at these stations and that this is the explanation why nobody reacted at the beginning (see also the following Subchapter 22.3 - The Rescue Operation). The above might be the explanation for the initial silence of the Finnish MRCCs, but what about Sweden and Estonia?
Note:According to Finnish media reports both stations were unattended at the time in question and the "distress" calls were recorded automatically. See also the telephone interview of Captain Thörnroos by Inspector Lars-Erik Andersson
Also the following two questions are difficult to answer. It shall, nevertheless, be attempted:
(1) Why was the Mayday transmitted so late?
(2) Why did SILJA EUROPA and MARIELLA insist on establishing ESTONIA's position, although they knew exactly that the vessel between them and somewhat more to the South was ESTONIA? (These 3 ferries had been arriving at and sailing from Stockholm together since February 1993). This refers in particular to MARIELLA because those on the bridge saw ESTONIA continuously since being overtaken by her off Hangö an the watch officers established her position immediately after they heard the 'Mayday'.
as to 1.) :
Based on the investigation results of this 'Group of Experts' question one might be explained as follows:
It has been mentioned already at the beginning of this subchapter that the transmissions had been very weak for two reasons, viz.
- the mates most probably had used their 'walkie-talkies', and
- Channel 16 was considerably disturbed.
Therefore it cannot be excluded and has to be assumed that a 'Mayday' had been called earlier already. This is confirmed, on one hand, by the anonymous telephone report of a watch A.B. on a ferry in the vicinity and, secondly, by the circumstances on board which had mandatorily required the 'Mayday' at the very latest after the big heel at 01.02 hours. The indication of Silver Linde in his statement no. 3 on 17.10.94 (Enclosure 220.127.116.11), that he was sent down from the bridge to inform them about the alarm to the Information desk minutes before the big heel, could confirm this as could the statement of Henrik Sillaste that the lifeboat lashings had been released in advance.
Furthermore, those on the bridge of ESTONIA had been aware of the following problems:
(a) The starboard stabiliser which did not move out and a respective alarm had appeared at about 00.30 hours, which activated Margus Treu and was - according to the book of Andi Meister - the real reason to call down Henrik Sillaste, and subsequently Kadak and Sillaste tried to get the stabiliser fin out, probably by beating with a sledge hammer while Treu returned to the ECR.
(b) Margus Treu reported to the bridge that "the bow ramp had been struck and became broke" (that is what Treu told Kadak), most probably after he had seen it.
(c) Silver Linde reported to the bridge that "there is a lot of water on the car deck, we have to leave the vessel" (overheard by Ervin Roden).
It can be assumed with certainty that the watch officer, 2nd officer Peeter Kannussaar, immediately informed the master and chief officer, who certainly came to the bridge probably together with the chief engineer within 2 or 3 minutes maximum. As a next step, the speed was reduced to probably 6 kn (Margus Treu) and the course was slowly changed to starboard with the aim of taking the pressure off the visor and wind and sea on the stern at slow speed and then to send crew members down to the car deck to close the partly open bow ramp. It has to be assumed further that 4th officer Kikas was steering manually during this manoeuvre. When the wind and sea came almost abeam from starboard the vessel began to roll more and more, less to port / wider to starboard and those on the bridge realised that there was the risk of capsizing to starboard and decided to turn back to port. This was apparently done too fast in the attempt to stop the dangerous rolls and the ferry swung rapidly to port and made a wide heel to starboard - reportedly 45°-50° - and came back to almost upright condition. The very abrupt and rapid heel caused numerous people to be catapulted out of their bunks, to be thrown against walls, roulette tables and other heavy objects to be torn loose and smashed against the wall and the like. Therefore it has to be assumed that at the highest point of the superstructure - the bridge - also some or all of those on duty there lost their hold and were catapulted the very long distance across the breadth of the bridge into the starboard wing (where indeed one body was found by the divers). It is not unrealistic to assume that it took them - at least - several minutes to recover, if at all, and then to realise the situation.
It has further to be assumed that 2nd officer (B) Kannussaar, whose watch was over at 01.00 hours, was sent down to the car deck, probably together with the nautical adviser Juri Aavik, the chief engineer Lembit Leiger, the boatswain Vello Ruben and some A.B.s, among them Aulis Lee and Aarne Koppel. They were working on the car deck when the two severe impacts occurred around 01.00 hours, shortly afterwards followed by the big starboard heel at 01.02 hours, the vessel righted almost up, but the heel increased again and those on the car deck realised that they had no chance to hold the visor and to close the bow ramp and tried to get up to the bridge, respectively to deck 7. Silver Linde, Aarne Koppel and Aulis Lee made it, they were already on deck 7 opening liferafts when crew members from the cabins on deck 7 came out (the purser Andres Vihmar for example). The passenger Per-Erik Ehrnsten, coming from his cabin on deck 6, i.e. only one deck below and located near the forward central stairway, even saw Silver Linde and two other crew members walking in the inner alleyway from the aft crew accommodation forward towards the centre stairway only minutes after the big heel. Aulis Lee even managed to get back to his cabin on the starboard side of deck 4, to pick-up his wife Aina and both got back to deck 7 in time and survived. Simultaneously those on the bridge obviously considered their options whilst the situation was deteriorating by the minute, the vessel being now on a south-easterly heading with the deep starboard side exposed to the wind and waves, the main engines shut off, but when the vessel stabilised for some time at a heel of 40°-50° this might have raised hopes for a while that the vessel might stay afloat until the arrival of assistance from shore. This might have caused them to delay the urgently required transmission of 'Mayday' and alarm for the passengers even further. When finally at about 01.21/01.22 hours the heeling started again to increase 2nd officer Ainsalu desperately called "Mayday, Estonia, please", etc.
All this does not explain why Ainsalu and subsequently also Tammes did not use the bridge installed VHF or even the MF installation being much stronger, which would have connected them with the outside world immediately.
Consequently there must have been circumstances on the bridge which prevented them from using the installations. One reason could be the authority of ESTONIA's master, Arvo Andresson, who never permitted the mates on duty to take any action on their own. Therefore also during this night the mates on the bridge presumably did not dare to undertake on their own such a drastic step as advising the outside world by transmitting a 'Mayday' that the pride of their nation, the ESTONIA, was in serious trouble. Unthinkable according to the philosophy of Arvo Andresson and his superiors ashore, and this could be a reason why the 'Mayday' was transmitted so late, i.e. in a situation when main engines and auxiliaries had already shut off automatically and the vessel was heeling at 45°-50° since 01.22 hours.
On the other hand, it also cannot be excluded that the mates transmitted a 'Mayday' much earlier, i.e. before 01.00 hours already, but by means of the "walkie-talkies" and at a time when transmissions over Channel 16 were severely affected by heavy disturbances.
As, however, no one from the bridge has survived and the evidence of watch A.B. Silver Linde in respect of his observations on the bridge around 01.00 hours have proven to be wrong, because he never was on the bridge after 00.30 hours, and furthermore the four bodies found on the bridge by the divers were not examined - at least not officially - it will probably never become known what happened on the bridge after 00.30 hours, unless the unmanipulated videos are released and/or new diving investigations are carried out.
as to 2.) :
Why did SILJA EUROPA and MARIELLA insist on establishing ESTONIA's position, although they knew exactly that the vessel between them and somewhat more to the South was ESTONIA? In particular MARIELLA had seen ESTONIA continuously since being overtaken by her off Hangö.
On MARIELLA, only 9 nm away from the casualty, the master Jan-Tore Thörnroos phoned the bridge just at that minute from his bedroom to instruct 2nd officer Ingmar Eklund to further reduce speed as the vessel was pitching in too hard. At that time MARIELLA, being almost twice as large as ESTONIA, was already going several knots slower than the Estonian vessel.
Thörnroos heard Eklund shouting:
»Now Estonia is sending a distress message.«
Within less than 1 minute Thörnroos appeared barefoot on the bridge. In the meantime Eklund had twice tried to get in contact with ESTONIA.
»Estonia - Mariella.«
»Estonia - Mariella.«
The name of the own vessel always has to be mentioned after the name of the vessel being called.
But there came no answer. Not before 1 minute and 5 seconds later when a sound, as from a whistle, was heard which most probably was a disturbance caused by somebody activating the transmitter on channel 16 without using it.
After a further 15 seconds the desperate voice from ESTONIA came again:
»Europa - Estonia - Silja Europa - Estonia.«
Now chief officer Teijo Seppelin from SILJA EUROPA replied directly in English, which is the normal radio communication language in international waters:
»Estonia, this is Silja Europa replying on channel 16.«
Ainsalu called again as if he had not heard SILJA EUROPA:
Seppelin replied again:
»Estonia, this is Silja Europa replying on channel 16.«
He got no reply, 21 seconds elapsed before Ainsalu came back:
»Silja Europa, Viking - Estonia.«
Now Ainsalu suddenly called both SILJA EUROPA and the undefined Viking apparently not knowing which Viking vessel was the nearest. The master of MARIELLA had meanwhile arrived on the bridge and tried to get in contact with ESTONIA himself:
Immediately thereafter came Ainsalu:
Two minutes and 9 seconds had by now elapsed since the first Mayday. Teijo Seppelin on SILJA EUROPA apparently had difficulties accepting that one of the large Baltic ferries was calling Mayday. He asked again and not fully in line with the international rules for distress traffic by VHF:
»Estonia - Silja Europa - asking you - eh. Are calling you Mayday? Estonia, what's going on? Can you reply?«
A correct reply should have been an immediate acknowledgement of the Mayday call and a question for the position. Now a new and somewhat more energetic voice came from the ESTONIA, the 3rd officer Andres Tammes who continued in English:
»This is Estonia.«
Then he changed into Finnish.
»Who is there? Silja Europa, Estonia.«
Seppelin replied in English.
»Yes, Estonia. This is Silja Europa.«
Tammes, who according to his professional qualifications spoke English, continued in Finnish and now obviously tried to calm down the emotions somewhat by being polite:
»Good morning. Do you speak Finnish?«
»I speak Finnish.«
The further communication between Tammes and Seppelin continued in Finnish.
»Yes, we have a problem here now,«
»a bad list to the right side. I believe that it is 20°, 30°. Could you come to our assistance and also ask Viking Line to come to our assistance?«
»Yes, Viking Line is behind us and they surely got the information. Can you give your position?«
»...(unclear)...we have blackout, we cannot get it now. I cannot say it.«
»Okay, understood, we'll take measures.«
This was a confusing question from Seppelin and one of the most peculiar ones of the whole rescue operation. These large vessels proceeded on almost the same course every night. SILJA and VIKING departed from Helsinki together at 18.00 hours, while ESTONIA left Tallinn one hour later. All three vessels headed for Sandhamn, where they normally arrived more or less at the same time. Only in strong southerly and south-westerly winds would all three use the northern entrance to Stockholm - Söderarm. They knew exactly where the other vessels were and one look at the radar screen would have told Seppelin where MARIELLA and ESTONIA were. This question to ESTONIA, however, also indicates that he knew where MARIELLA was. Consequently, he should also have been aware that the radar echo on port side aft of abeam was ESTONIA. However, instead of turning SILJA EUROPA soonest towards the already sinking ESTONIA a long discussion via VHF channel 16 commenced about ESTONIA's position.
Andres Tammes from ESTONIA told Teijo Seppelin that they had a 'blackout' which normally means that the power supply has totally failed and thus they were unable to state their position. Both GPS Satellite Navigators installed on the bridge - a "Shipmate" in the control panel and a "Magnavox" in the chartroom - were connected to the emergency generator as well as to the emergency batteries according to the Estonian members of the JAIC. Both GPS Navigators were automatically switched off when the auxiliaries stopped and switched on again after the start of the emergency generator. In order to overlap this break a battery installed in the GPS Navigator supplies power in the meantime and the set remains connected to the chain and shows the position continuously; consequently the position remains on the display, at least of the "Shipmate" GPS. Therefore, this could not have been the reason for Tammes's problem in stating their position. The reason was most probably his difficulties to hold to something at his position in the bridge, most likely at the aft door at port side, because at 01.35 hours when the VHF-communication between Tammes and Seppelin commenced ESTONIA must have heeled ca. 50°-60°, which was quickly increasing, and not 20°-30° as stated by Tammes. It was most probably impossible for Tammes from his position to have a look at the "Shipmate" GPS installed in the front console. It took some time for chief mate Juhan Herma to get to the Shipmate from where he had been before inside the bridge and shout the position to Tammes.
Now the master of MARIELLA came in:
»Silja Europa, Mariella.«
»Yes, Mariella, Europa here - Mariella on 16.«
»Yes, listen, is their position clear to you? Is it they who are on our port side?«
More peculiar questions, this time from Captain Thörnroos of MARIELLA. The 2nd officer Ingmar Eklund, who had been on the bridge all the time, was able to inform his master directly which echo on the radar screen belonged to ESTONIA.
»There is Estonia!«
said Eklund and pointed to the lights on the horizon.
In his statement to the Finnish criminal police Captain Thörnroos subsequently also testified that he »saw the lights of Estonia without the help of binoculars.« Eklund had seen ESTONIA overtaking MARIELLA outside Hangö and had followed the radar track ever since. Thus, there could be not doubt which echo was ESTONIA and consequently what her position was.
Seppelin replied to Thörnroos:
»No, I didn't get any position from them, but they must be here in the neighbourhood, they have 20°-30° starboard list and blackout.«
»I think that they are here at our port side approximately 45°.«
Now more than 4 minutes had passed since the 1st Mayday of ESTONIA.
»Okay, yes, I am just waking up the skipper.«
At about this time MARIELLA altered course towards ESTONIA.
Suddenly Andres Tammes came back, now clearly with desperation in his voice:
»Are you coming to assistance?«
Obviously the Estonians had now given up all hope, because the list must then have been some 70°, only 2 minutes later the bridge was under water.
»Yes, can you see us?«
Tammes, however, in his desperate situation, having to face the loss of his life within the next minutes, apparently did not understand this as he replied:
»Yes, I can hear you.«
As ESTONIA had been on a south-easterly heading for some time already her deep starboard side was exposed to the wind and sea; SILJA EUROPA was at port side aft of abeam whilst MARIELLA was at port side about abeam, thus both vessels could most likely be seen by those on the bridge of ESTONIA.
Seppelin then said:
»Okay, we will start to determine your position here now. Just a moment.«
After Thörnroos had tried in vain to get in contact with Helsinki Radio via VHF or on 2182 kHz, SILJA EUROPA asked:
»Yes, have you any visual contact at all with Estonia ?«
Thörnroos replied (which was wrong, because at that time the emergency illumination of ESTONIA was still on.) Since he had seen the lights of ESTONIA clearly on the horizon during the last minutes, this reply is not understandable.
Thörnroos said later:
»This was wrong and I shall, of course, be criticised for that.«
Seppelin then came back to Thörnroos, expressing himself rather softly by saying:
»We must start and try to find her somewhere, it is a bit difficult to say as they didn't give any position.«
But now, after all hope for ESTONIA had apparently been given up, the chief mate of ESTONIA managed to lower himself down to the front console where the Shipmate was installed and read their position; his voice has been identified on the tape of the distress communication shouting the position to Andres Tammes, who repeated:
»59°22' (W), 21°40' (E)«.
It is unknown whether this was really the correct Mayday position, because on the bridge of MARIELLA the 2nd officer Ingmar Eklund noted the position having been 59°22' N, 21°39' E, about 0.5 nm more to the West. Receipt of the position was confirmed by SILJA EUROPA and then ESTONIA came back for the last time at 01.29.55 hours - 7 minutes and 15 seconds after the first Mayday call and 5 minutes before the battery-powered clock on the starboard side of the bridge stopped :
»Really bad, it looks really bad here now.«
Andres Tammes said and Seppelin replied:
»Yes, it looks really bad«, in a sort of routine way always repeating what the other vessel said.
»We are on our way and it is 21.40.«
Tammes came back once more at 01.30.06 hours, apparently in Estonian with a phrase which according to the master of MARE BALTICUM, Erik Moik, meant:
»How far away are you?«, which would certainly make sense.
Note: At that time the ferry must have been more or less on the side. According to Henrik Sillaste - who was then already in the liferaft together with Silver Linde and others - that was approximately the situation when Andres Tammes and Tormi Ainsalu left the bridge through the port door and climbed down to the 7th deck where they helped with the opening of liferafts and pushing them into the water. Whereas the body of Andres Tammes was subsequently found, Tormi Ainsalu is missing.
The behaviour of those on the bridges of SILJA EUROPA and MARIELLA can simply be explained by their reluctance to accept whatever the Estonians did or did not do. When the first rather weak and hesitantly spoken Mayday was heard already at about 00.45 hours, the first thought of the officers on the bridges of the MARIELLA, SILJA SYMPHONY and SILJA EUROPA was probably something to the effect of "Oh no, not ESTONIA again, don't they even know what Mayday means?" and, indeed, the first message was not repeated. When the 2nd officer Ainsalu called 'Mayday' again rather weakly and hesitantly and even added "please" at 01.22 hours the reaction on the bridges of the Finnish and Swedish ferries was not much different (in the meantime the officers on SILJA EUROPA had changed watch at 01.00 hours). They simply could not believe that the situation on the ESTONIA was so bad as to justify a Mayday call, an impression which at the beginning may even have been underlined by Andres Tammes's statement: »We have a bad list ..... I believe that it is 20°, 30°.... we have blackout.« Only later, when his voice had become really desperate and the lights of ESTONIA had disappeared, did they realise that the situation was indeed very serious and then they reacted appropriately.
A similar way of thinking may probably have influenced the speed at which the rescue operation was set into motion by those responsible, as will be explained in Chapter 22.3.