Readers of my last book, Mourning in Malmö, will be well aware of my protagonist’s efforts to discover why the MS Estonia sank in the Baltic on a stormy night in September 1994 on its run from Tallinn to Stockholm.  Her fictional father was one of the 852 ferry passengers and crew that were lost that night; 501 of them were Swedes.  An official enquiry was set up after the tragic event and it was this Joint Accident Investigation Committee’s findings that have sparked off over two decades of conspiracy theories.

In the book, Anita Sundström explores a number of these theories in her search for the truth.  The committee (JAIC) – made up of representatives from Finland, Sweden and the newly-independent Estonia – came to the conclusion that the accident was a result of the bow visor being ripped off in very rough seas, allowing the water to pour into the car deck.  Their conclusion seemed at odds with a number of reports from survivors who heard a heavy metallic bang at about 1am.  Other accounts mention seeing water rising from the lower decks under the car deck.  But what really made many experts sceptical about the JAIC’s conclusion was that the ferry sank in only thirty-five minutes.  Even if water had found its way into the ferry, it shouldn’t have sunk that quickly.  What many suspected was that there must have been a hole under the waterline.  What created the hole is where the conspiracy theories come in – a bomb or a collision with a submarine or other vessel?  The authorities claimed the hull was intact.  What added to the feverish speculation was that a number of governments around the Baltic – and the UK bizarrely – signed a treaty to turn the site into a marine grave and prohibit any further exploration of the vessel on pain of two years’ imprisonment.   This was after an initial plan to cover the wreck in concrete was withdrawn after a public outcry, particularly from the bereaved relatives.  Now events have taken a significant turn with the revelations in a new documentary.

In the five-part documentary Estonia: The Find That Changes Everything, the film-makers discovered a hole when they sent down a remote-controlled submarine.  In an attempt to avoid prosecution, they hired a German boat from the only local country not to have been a signatory of the treaty.  When scanning the starboard side they found a large hole, 4 metres high and 1.2 metres wide.  A Norwegian marine technology professor they consulted estimated that it was caused by a collision with an object weighing between 1,000 and 5,000 tonnes travelling at between two and four knots.

Following the documentary’s claims there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity from countries previously happy to accept the JAIC’s original report.  Already there have comments from the Finnish foreign minister and Estonia’s prime minister.  Most significantly, Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, has said the country’s own accident investigation board would examine the new evidence.  In 2007, the first official doubt to be cast over the findings was by Margus Kurm, an ex-prosecutor and head of an Estonian inquiry.  He suggested that the Estonia hit a submarine and that a Swedish sub had been in the area.

The head of the Swedish Estonia Relatives’ Association has called on the Swedish government to tell the truth at last.  The families have been calling for another investigation for 20 years, a request consistently denied by the Swedish authorities.  Maybe now we’ll all find out what really happened that night back in 1994.  And maybe Anita Sundström was actually on the right track!