'I was the nearest link with the disaster'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Rev Michael Dunk, of Birmingham, and his wife Rosemarie went to bed in cabin 1045 on the Estonia between Tallinn and Stockholm on Monday night last week. It was the ship's penultimate voyage. Twenty-four hours later, the occupants of that cabin, at the bottom of the ship below the ill- fated car deck, would have been among the first drowned and would now be entombed on the ocean floor. The Dunks feel like survivors.

Mr Dunk, a chaplain to industry in Birmingham, learned the news on Wednesday morning, when he was picked up by his colleague, the Bishop of Uppsala. They drove to the university town, which had lost 33 of its lay court assessors who had been attending a conference on the ferry.

As the clergy began their work to console the grieving of the town, 'I became the nearest link they had with the disaster', Mr Dunk told the Independent.

He had spent five days in Estonia visiting the archbishop-elect. The trip was part of a church sabbatical, including four weeks in Sweden, as part of a joint working group of senior clergy to create a union between the Church of England and the Nordic Lutheran churches.

Mrs Dunk, though still shaken, went back to work yesterday. The chaplain now faces the task of writing his report on the original clerical purpose of the journey. He admits it will be 'heavily tinged'.

I met the chaplain at Stockholm airport, as we waited to board the same flight to London on Monday night. Take-off was delayed by a bomb threat. Mr Dunk took this in his stride; I joked with him that somebody up there must have known he was on board; and that his surname was what Jung would have described as a name of compulsion. 'But something you dunk comes up again,' he joined in. His fear of flying is greater than it was, but not insurmountable.

'I don't think that because I was 24 hours away from it God spared me - I don't have that theology,' he said. 'What I do think is that this teaches one to put aside the pettiness of life.'

In minute detail he recalled the picture of the ferry and the cabin; the faces of the crew; the girls singing in the nightclub. 'I can almost smell the metal of the ship. I hope it went quickly; I keep worrying about whether there had formed an air pocket in the cabin, dragging out the process.'

As the Estonia was about to leave Tallinn harbour, Mr Dunk noticed that the ferry alongside it, owned by another shipping line, had its bow doors open as it backed out. Mr Dunk did not think to check that those of the Estonia were shut: 'It never happens to you, does it? You assume the captain would know all about it. So you don't march up to him and tell him. You assume everyone knows what they're doing.'

At home the couple have created a shrine of things acquired during the journey - a picture of the boat, the Swedish and Estonian flags, a box of Estline matches, and the boarding card. 'I guess you just have to work through this in your own way. We have an Estonian student staying with us at the moment, and he says you just have to forget it. We all have different ways.'

(Photograph omitted)