The Estonia Catastrophe: The Mysterious Sinking of the Baltic Ferry Estonia

The unexplained sinking of the Baltic ferry Estonia on its way to Stockholm from Tallinn in late September 1994 is the third mega-disaster (albeit not chronologically) that occurred within the framework of a military exercise. The day before it sank, Estonia had also been the scene of a terrorism exercise in which the scenario was a terror bombing of the ferry. Looking at the NATO military assets that were assembled nearby and the terrorism drill that had just been conducted on the ship, the stage was set and the actors were in place for what turned out to be a real disaster. The Estonia catastrophe is Europe’s worst maritime disaster since World War II.

Tragically, 852 people are known to have died when Estonia sank in the early hours of September 28, 1994, but more than 1,000 may have perished, if, as reported, some 150 Iraqi Kurds were being smuggled to Sweden in one of the trucks on its car deck.  Scores of people died in the frigid water of the Baltic Sea waiting for rescue boats and helicopters that came too late. More than ninety bodies were retrieved from the life rafts.

THE TOLL – The bodies of some of the Estonia victims retrieved from the Baltic Sea.

NATO’S “SEARCH & RESCUE” EXERCISE

Although it is seldom mentioned, the Estonia catastrophe occurred on the first day of a 10-day NATO naval exercise called Cooperative Venture 94, in which more than fifteen ships and “a number of maritime aircraft” were prepared to conduct “humanitarian and search and rescue operations” in nearby waters.  The NATO exercise, which involved ten NATO member states and the Baltic “partner” nations of Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Lithuania, was to be staged in the Skagerrak, between Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and the Norwegian Sea, according to the NATO press release about the exercise from September 16, 1994.

The NATO nations who participated in the exercise were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States. Many other allies and partners sent observers to the exercise, according to the NATO press release.

The fact that Estonia sank as the submarines, ships, planes, personnel, and satellites from the navies of fourteen nations were preparing to begin their ten-day “search and rescue operations” exercise off the coast of Sweden raises several obvious questions that deserve to be answered:

If NATO had fifteen ships and a number of aircraft assembled and prepared to conduct “search and rescue operations,” why didn’t NATO assist in the early morning rescue operation for the victims from the Estonia  catastrophe? The Swedish rescue helicopters were ill-prepared and ill-equipped, which resulted in a fatal delay for those waiting to be rescued.

Many Estonia victims died of exposure due to the delayed rescue. Of the 852 lives lost only 94 bodies were recovered. A complete list of the dead is here.

“Were there specially-equipped rescue helicopters or other aircraft that could have assisted?” Drew Wilson, author of The Hole (2006), a book about the Estonia catastrophe, wrote. “Survivors who didn’t die from hypothermia while floating on upturned boats or flotsam in the biting water waited four-six hours for rescue.  NATO search-and-rescue personnel and equipment could have saved some lives. Flying time was under 1 hour. Why didn’t they respond to the distress traffic? What happened?”

The evidence also indicates that the Mayday signals from Estonia had been jammed, as were all radio communications in the area.  “A series of comprehensive malfunctions in regional communication systems all at once, and all at the exact time the ferry had sunk suggest involvement by a military or intelligence services,” Wilson writes in The Hole. “Was a distress call intentionally blocked?  If so, why?

“Communications throughout the Northern Baltic Sea were disrupted during the time of the accident.” As Wilson documents, VHF Channel 16, the international Mayday channel, and Channel 2182 were blocked.  “Signal jamming of all radio communications apparently occurred on the Southern coastline of Finland as the accident unfolded.

“Werner Hummel, the German investigator, said that his Group had documentation showing that the regional telephone network servicing the catastrophe site failed just as it was needed most. The malfunction was truly a startling coincidence. The telephone company stated its entire radio communications network, for unknown reasons, had been down from 1:03 to 1:58 a.m. – almost exactly the time the Estonia first encountered trouble until the time it disappeared from radar.”

Didn’t the NATO communications units prepared for the “search and rescue” exercise overhear the distress calls coming from Estonia?  NATO, with state-of-the-art satellite and airborne surveillance assets in place over the Baltic Sea certainly must know who was blocking the SOS calls. Why has this information been kept secret since 1994?

Blocking SOS calls and jamming distress signals is a violation of international law. Why has this crime not been investigated? The intentional blocking of the Mayday signals from Estonia points to complicity in mass murder.

“Naval exercises are meant to be as realistic as possible,” Olivier Schmidt, author of The Intelligence Files: Today’s Secrets, Tomorrow’s Scandals, writes. What was the “search and rescue” scenario of NATO’s Cooperative Venture 94 exercise, which was commanded at sea by the Dutch submarine commander Gijsbert Goofert Hooft?

I sent a series of pertinent questions to Robert Pszczel, NATO’s press officer for Baltic issues, about NATO’s response to the Estonia catastrophe:

Did NATO have any naval assets in the Baltic Sea on the night of September 27-28, 1994 and what actions did NATO take in the immediate aftermath of the Estonia disaster?

Did NATO pick up the Mayday signals being sent (and jammed) from Estonia?

Why didn’t NATO assist, given the urgent need to retrieve hundreds of freezing people from life rafts?

What was the scenario of NATO’s search and recovery exercise?

Despite telephone calls and email exchanges with the press office at NATO headquarters, Robert Pszczel failed to respond to a single question about NATO’s response to the Estonia catastrophe. Drew Wilson met the same wall of silence at NATO when he asked questions about Estonia for his book The Hole.  If NATO has a reasonable explanation for its failure to respond to Europe’s worst maritime disaster since World War II, why is it unwilling to provide it?

NATO AWAC Planes in Norway

NATO had fourteen ships, submarines, aircraft, and personnel from the United States, Europe, Sweden, and Russia assembled near the scene of the sinking of Estonia, Europe’s worst maritime disaster since World War II. The purpose of the NATO exercise included “search and rescue” operations, yet when disaster struck, NATO did nothing to help. Why? What was NATO doing that was more important than saving the lives of their citizens? Why won’t they talk about it?

ESTONIA’S BOMB DRILLS

The Estonia ferry had been the object of bomb threats and had participated in at least two terror bomb exercises in 1994, one in February and another just the day before it sank.

On February 2, 1994, Estonia was the subject of a major mock bomb exercise conducted with RITS, Sweden’s maritime fire and rescue agency, and the Stockholm police. The Stockholm police had requested to take part in the exercise and used bomb-sniffing dogs to find explosives. The terror simulation involved a scenario in which “bombs” had been placed in the sauna and swimming pool area on the lowest deck, below the waterline in the bow of the ship. A second “bomb” was placed in the sleeping quarters on the first deck, also below the waterline.

In the Estonia terror scenario, the explosives in the sauna were to be found by the dogs, while the second “bomb” was to explode. The purpose of this terrorism drill was to train with the ship’s crew and include shore-based terrorism experts and police with bomb-sniffing dogs, brought to the ship by helicopter. In the simulation, the “bombs” were set to explode about halfway between the Estonian and Swedish coasts, which is where the ship actually sank in September 1994 after a similar mock bomb threat exercise.

When Estonia sank, another mock bomb exercise on the ship had just been concluded. Survivors from the sinking actually reported hearing two huge explosions immediately before the ship listed to starboard. Several crew members testified to having heard the coded fire alarm “Mr. Skylight to No. 1 and 2” over the ferry’s public address system at about 1:02 a.m. after the vessel had listed severely. This is the message for the crew that was used during the previous bomb drill in February 1994. “Mr. Skylight” was a signal for the fire fighters to proceed to their fire stations 1 and 2 and prepare for damage control. The fact that this coded alarm was given indicates that there was damage caused by a fire or explosion that required immediate attention. The ferry sank within thirty minutes.

Eyewitness testimony from survivors plus the fact that the ship sank extremely quickly strongly suggest that explosives were used to tear a large hole in the hull below the waterline. Swedish policemen who had just conducted training involving a mock bomb threat on the ferry were returning home when Estonia sank. Of the seventy policemen, only seven survived.

The trans-Baltic ferry Estonia sank in less than 30 minutes after two explosions rocked the ship in the middle of the night.  A mock terror drill of a bombing scenario had just been completed on the ship the day before.  The passenger ferry was being used to transport Soviet military contraband when she sank. The highest officials in Swedish customs, the government, and military were aware of the sensitive and illegal shipments that put the ferry at risk.  Is this why they are so dedicated to protecting the lies about the sinking?

The un-dead Estonians who survived

Up to 10 passengers and crew-members on M/S Estonia who survived and were on firsts survived lists later mysteriously disappeared forever from any future published survived lists. There is many eyewitnesses who saw these people had been rescued. These people were reportedly rescued but later turned out to have not survived:

  • Avo Piht
  • Kalev Vahtras
  • Lembit Leiger
  • Viktor Bogdanov
  • Hannely (Anne) Veide
  • Hanka-Hannika Veide
  • Aleksander Voronin
  • Kaimar Kikas
  • Merit Kikas
  • Tiina Müür
  • Agur Targama
  • Ago Tomingas

Avo Piht  

He was the captain of Estonia second shift, but he was not on duties until the ship reached Stockholm. In the morning, he had to give Sweden a pilot test and therefore drove to the ship. Surviving witnesses recognized Piht who helped in dividing life-jackets onboard the sinking ship. Ervin Roden admits that he saw Piht with mechanic Lembit Leiger (and sisters Veide) entering to liferaft.

Piht was rescued and appeared on the original list of survivors. Piht’s survival was reported on the radio: it is said that for the first time in 12 o’clock at the time, although his wife Sirje Piht emphasizes the survival list is “the hard way to discover the truth” that she heard of Avo Piht’s survival for the first time at ten o’clock.

On 28 September 1994, before noon on the Kuku radio station in an interview broadcast, one of the Swedish helicopter crewmen at Finland UTÖ island told how he had just rescued the second shift captain Avo Piht. When the German Spiegel TV with Jutta Rabe and Kay Holmberg tried to get access to interview of the recording at Kuku radio, the station manager said that the Estonian Security Police had confiscated the recording a few weeks prior.

Sirje Piht thinks it must have been the helicopter crew that had information about Avo Piht, because how else would a crew member know that the sunken ferry had two master on board or otherwise captain Avo Piht told his name to his rescuers himself.

Many also argue that they saw escaped Piht on television. Any clip that shows Piht, have not been located since. When Jutta Rabe reported that there is a video in the archives of the first videos made about the Estonia disaster but when she went to look she became aware that just the day before the German Security Police had exactly the same expressed interest.

Meanwhile, the Estonian Police were sure that captain Piht was rescued after accessing his application upon searching through Interpol.

In Henning Witte’s book “The Drowned truth,” the author states that it was in the autumn of 1996 he got phone call from Germans sources, who sent convey message to Sirje Piht: “there is no need to worry about, she should think about it more global.”

Andi Meister (resigned Chairman of the Commission and the international compound of the book “Work logbook” author) said that Swedish helicopter Y-64 transported one person to UTÖ island, even though he was not registered there at-all. Meister think it could have been Piht.

On 28 September 1994, Estline Tallinn office compiled a list, rescued Avo Piht, side note: Turku University Hospital. On the same day Piht was said to have been to Helsinki. This data was obtained from the hospital doctor, later repeated the ship repair yard in Turku Project Manager Erik Mörd to Captain Erich Moik.

Besides the captain Piht being normal, he was also a very good diplomat. Andresson was a thorough master; honest, dry and very demanding. Technically if boat were rotten or reported with dangerous elements like cracks on crucial elements like bow visor hinges or other sudden apparent mistakes on the ships hull or anywhere on the ship, they would have avoided the trip out to sea.

Add one more oddity on grounds which may be purely coincidence, but not necessarily. In 1994, shortly after the Estonia disaster – I think it was four days later – we went with the then rector of the marine education center Peter Veegen to the Finland Turu hospital to visit captain Piht. We called ahead and they told us – yes, Piht is in the hospital. We went to the hospital and they told us that very soon he will meet us. We waited. And it was reported – no, he does not exist there at hospital. All the time he was there, but then suddenly he was not.

Continued on the next page…

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