Estonia, Sweden honor 1994 ferry disaster victims

AP News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2014 12:24 PM
Estonia, Sweden honor 1994 ferry disaster victims

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered Sunday in Estonia and Sweden to commemorate 852 people killed in one of Europe's worst peacetime disasters 20 years ago when the Estonia ferry sank en route from Tallinn to Stockholm.

Mourners in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, laid flowers at a monument — lit by 852 torches — after a six-hour concert that lasted the length of the fateful voyage on the night of Sept. 27-28, 1994.

Memorial events were also held in Sweden, attended by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and government members.

Of the 989 people on board the passenger and car ferry, only 137 were rescued after it sank in about 30 minutes after taking in water when its bow doors were ripped open in a storm in the early hours of the morning. More than 500 Swedes and about 290 Estonians died in the accident, with victims from 17 countries.

Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar said the worst accident in modern Estonia's history left a permanent stamp on the memory of the small Baltic nation's citizens.

"It touched all of us. Whether directly or distantly ... it was in everyone's heart," Savisaar said Sunday, speaking at the "Broken Line" monument, where two curved steel slabs depict the ferry's disrupted journey.

A 1997 report by an investigation commission of Estonian, Finnish and Swedish experts blamed faulty bow-door locks, the intensity of the storm and human error for the accident.

Rescuers, hampered by cold, dark and stormy conditions, recovered 94 bodies from the sea and life rafts.

The site of the shipwreck off the southwestern Finnish coast, about 80 meters (260 feet) below the surface, has been declared a final resting site for the 757 bodies not recovered.

The disaster resulted in major security overhauls, the improvement of rescue operations and structure design changes on dozens of passenger ferries plying the Baltic Sea.