Estonia disaster commemorated in three Baltic countries
Tenth anniversary of sinking of passenger ferry
A memorial service commemorating the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia filled Turku Cathedral on Tuesday.
In addition to those who took part in the rescue efforts when the vessel went down off the southwest tip of Finland on a stormy autumn night, the service was attended by many local people.
Finland’s Lutheran Archbishop Jukka Paarma noted in his sermon that the first reports of the disaster were hard to comprehend: "Sorrow and shock affected us all. Words were hard to come by. Even today there is little that we can say with respect to these memories."
Kari Lehtola, the head of the Finnish delegation in the international commission which investigated the disaster, noted that Finland had to bear the main responsibility for the rescue effort. He added that Finland had nothing to be ashamed of in this respect.
In Sweden the main ceremony was held at the monument for the Estonia victims in Stockholm’s Djurgården.
The only speech at the event was by Björn von Sydow, Speaker of the Swedish Parliament. He called the disaster a "national trauma" affecting all Swedes.
He also touched upon demands that have cropped up in Sweden for a new investigation into the sinking. "We must act in cooperation with other countries. Balancing these interests is and has been a challenge for our democracy."
Before the memorial ceremony, Swedish organisations representing family members of people killed in the sinking held an gathering calling for a new investigation into the causes of the disaster.
In the Estonian capital Tallinn, next of kin of the victims gathered at the Katkenud liin ("Broken Line") monument outside the walls of the city’s Old Town.
President Arnold Rüütel compared the loss suffered by the Estonian people with that which occurred 50 years earlier, when many Estonians fled Soviet domination by boat and many others were deported to Siberia.
Laying a wreath at the monument were the members of a helicopter crew of the Finnish Frontier Guard, who rescued 39 people on the fateful night.
"When the first were rescued, we understood that we were in a hurry. Hypothermia is dangerous", said one of the crew members, Matti Rytkönen.
The helicopter, piloted by Veikka Miettinen, was able to rescue more people than others, because those who were rescued were taken to other nearby ships.
"A more difficult task was for those who had to pick up only bodies", Rytkönen remembers.
"Each time we found someone alive it gave us strength to continue."
The Estonia sank very rapidly near the southwest tip of Finland on September 28, 1994 in stormy weather while en route from Tallinn to Stockholm. A total of 852 people were killed in the disaster. Rescuers were able to save 137.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Tenth anniversary of sinking of Estonia - disaster tightens security measures for ships (28.9.2004)