Estonia shipwreck disaster in court after 25 years

9 May 2019

French classification society Bureau Veritas and German shipbuilder Meyer Werft are back in court contesting responsibility for the Estonia shipwreck 25 years after 852 people lost their lives in one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century.

Survivors and families of victims took their claims for over €40m in compensation to a French court in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris where Bureau Veritas is based. 

Most of the 809 passengers were Swedish or Estonian with a majority of the 186 crew Estonian nationals.

The 2,000-passenger capacity fully loaded 15,558 GT cruise ferry capsized and sank in the Baltic Sea en-route from Tallinn to Stockholm in September 1994.

It was Estonia’s largest ship at the time.

The hearing in Nanterre is the final examination of the facts in a case that was closed officially in 1995.

Survivors’ families expressed anger that the capsized ship lying 85m under water on the seabed was not re-floated.

They question the ship’s navigability due to negligence during construction in 1979 and negligence by the classification society, which had inspected the ferry twice in 1994.

A 1997 international commission composed of Sweden, Estonia and Finland concluded that design flaws including weakness of the locks on the ship's bow doors caused the disaster. Bureau Veritas and Meyer Werft contest responsibility.