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Divers look for bomb damage on ferry

An underwater video image of the Estonia ferry  

HELSINKI (Reuters) -- U.S.-led divers have started to investigate the wreck of the ferry Estonia, which sank in the Baltic in 1994 with the loss of 852 lives, brushing aside complaints from Nordic states that declared it a burial site.

Finnish and Swedish authorities failed to stop the controversial expedition led by U.S. businessman Gregg Bemis, who wants to check reports that the Estonia might have been damaged by a bomb blast before it sank in a storm while en route from Tallinn to Stockholm.

Finnish investigators insist that a faulty bow door rather than a bomb caused the ferry to sink in Europe's worst maritime disaster since World War Two.

"I think it's a violation of the sanctity of the grave and it's painful to see," Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson was quoted by Swedish news agency TT as saying of the latest diving operation.

The Finnish coast guard said the vessel One Eagle owned by Bemis had arrived at the site of the disaster and planned to start sending divers down to the wreck soon.

The 15,600-ton passenger and car ferry lies on its side at a depth of 55 to 80 metres (180-270 feet) about 100 km (60 miles) off the southwest coast of Finland.

No restriction on 'foreign nationals'

Bemis's team of American and German divers are cleared to dive at the site because it lies in international waters.

Swedish and Finnish coast guards boarded the One Eagle to inspect the crew but found no one from Finland, Sweden or Estonia, whose governments have banned their nationals from diving at the site.

"They can dive. We can't do anything about it. They're foreign nationals in international waters," said Markku Halonen, deputy commander of the Finnish Archipelago Coast Guard. "But we will be there watching them."

The diving operation is expected to last four days. The team have already sent down a remote-controlled camera to film the wreck, according to reports from the coast guard near the scene.

An official investigation blamed the ferry disaster on a design flaw that allowed heavy waves to knock the ferry's bow door open and flood the car deck -- an explanation that some of the victims' relatives do not accept.

Bemis, who believes there is a hole in the ship's hull, has said the expedition's goal is to urge the Swedish government to open a new inquiry into the causes of the accident.

A survey by Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter found 73 percent of relatives as well as organisations of survivors and relatives of Estonia victims backed Bemis's expedition.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Estonia - the ferry disaster '94 (What really happened ??)
Estonia ferry - MS Estonia

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