Cameras show lifeboats still fixed to ferry deck

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The Independent Online
TWO robots equipped with cameras scanned the hull of the sunken ferry Estonia yesterday, sending back pictures of the critical bow section that was leaking before the tragedy.

Piercing the underwater darkness with their searchlights, the Sea Owl robots sent back hours of electronic images from the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The eerie pictures show lifeboats still attached to the ship's deck.

The robots gave search crews a complete view of the hull, upper decks, the bridge, the stern and bow section of the Estonia, Tuomo Karppinen, a scientist aboard the salvage ship Halli, said. 'We have seen the wreck quite easily.'

The death of so many passengers on the Estonia has dealt a blow to a powerful clique of mostly Scandinavian countries, which for years have opposed the introduction of safety measures on roll-on roll-off ships that might have saved many lives last week.

It was these countries that lobbied hard and successfully at the International Maritime Organisation to block measures that would have made the Estonia accident survivable for many or all of the 910 who lost their lives.

Sweden, Norway and Finland have previously resisted the mandatory introduction of watertight bulkheads or walls on ferry cargo decks because of the delays they would cause in loading and unloading ferries.

Companies are highly sensitive about any measures that could delay a ferry's turn-around time, especially on short routes, and have fiercely resisted changes.

However, pressure from public opinion in Scandinavia should make it difficult for these governments to stand in the way of tough new measures, which the IMO will consider making mandatory.

'People's confidence in roll-on roll-off ferries as a means of transport has been severely dented, and ferry companies and the IMO will have to take on new regulations that at least restore that confidence,' Allan Gilfillan, vice-chairman of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects' safety committee, said.