The Baltic Ferry Disaster: 'Estonia' found in blackspot of Baltic

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The Independent Online
FINLAND'S leading expert on locating wrecks last night found the sunken ferry Estonia on the Baltic seabed, in an area known to seamen as the 'Graveyard of Ships'.

But the search ship, which used sophisticated sonar equipment to pick out the hull lying on its side on the ocean floor, just south of Uto Island in the Gulf of Finland, was unable to send remote video cameras down to examine the ferry, because of high winds and rough seas.

Coast guard officers who have co-ordinated the search of the area since the disaster in the early hours of Wednesday, which is believed to have claimed 910 lives, with only 99 bodies so far recovered, hope the storm will abate this morning so that they can send another ship with video cameras on a robot to the scene.

Last night, after revealing that the ship had been discovered two hours and 40 minutes after the beginning of the search operation by Juoko Nuorteva aboard the Suunta, coast guard officials refused to disclose the exact position, for the sake of the bereaved.

Raimo Tiilikainen, commander of the Finnish coast guard search operation, said: 'I will not give the position because if it turns out to be a grave, there will be too many people trying to go there.' He said it was in the area south of Uto lighthouse, which he described as the 'Graveyard of Ships'.

The ship is lying on the seabed, facing east-to-west, on a slope, with the bow section at a depth of 54m (162ft) and the stern down 86m. It had capsised and is lying on its left, port, side. Mr Nuorteva and his team marked the ship's position with automatic navigation equipment to enable future inspectors to find the wreck.

Another ship, the Halli, will travel to the spot this morning and send down the robot with three video cameras, one colour, one black-and-white, one low-light and a stills camera, in an effort to glean further information as to what caused the sinking.

Bodies recovered from the disaster have been taken to Helsinki University's medical centre, where forensic pathologists are trying to identify them. Relatives who fear they have lost someone in the tragedy have been asked to send items such as combs and toothbrushes, so that scientists can obtain cellular material to identify the bodies, using DNA testing. They have been asked not to visit the centre because of the trauma this would involve. So few of the missing have been recovered that there would be only a one-in-eight chance of finding loved ones.

Anatoli Jaanskelainen, the senior forensic pathologist, said that once his team believed they could put a name to the body, relatives might be asked to give a final identification. 'But we do not want to have people come and walk up and down lines of dead bodies, maybe a hundred, and in the end not even find their relatives,' he said. Mr Jaanskelainen predicted that more bodies, perhaps up to 150, would surface from the wreck. The furthest has been found 12 miles from the ship's last known position, where it lies with numerous other wrecks.

(Map omitted)

Baltic abyss, page 15