Historian says it's possible to reduce secrecy over Estonia ferry disaster

Take note – story published 4 years ago

September 28 marked the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Estonia ferry disaster, which claimed more than 800 lives in the Baltic Sea, most of them Swedes and Estonians. 

Sweden has classified an unknown quantity of documentation concerning the Estonia disaster, allegedly for the duration of 70 years. Latvian historian Kārlis Kangeris, who worked at the Swedish State Archives at the time of the disaster, says that it's possible to put pressure on the authorities to reduce this term.

LTV archives have extensive documentation over the experiences and emotions of the survivors. "Nothing was organized, there was no signal. Everyone fended for themselves as well as they could," said Estonia survivor Gundega Kampuse in 1997.

In 1997 an international commission established that faulty design and extreme weather were to blame for the disaster. But part of the findings were immediately made secret for 70 years.

"I was living in Sweden at the time, and there was a lot of discussion – what should be done with the wreck, whether it should be made an official grave. As there's a 70-year declassification limit, there must have been things over which we can speculate. Maybe the ship carried secret military materials. It's all possible. Sadly, we won't learn about this during our lifetime," said Kārlis Kangeris. 

According to Kangeris, all secret service documents are classified for 70 years in Sweden. "So 70 years isn't an arbitrary number. But the question remains whether the sinking of Estonia was a matter of safety aspects or a matter of the secret service," said Kangeris.

But Kangeris also said that classifying big matters is not rare in Sweden. "For example, the extradition of [Axis soldiers] was a classified case. It was opened only in the 1980s," he said.

A new Archive Law has been adopted in Sweden. It suggests a classification limit of 40 years. Public opinion can likewise prompt the government to act sooner.

"In the case of [Axis soldiers], the public started issuing repeated demands. And it may happen that the government changes its stance and releases documents sooner," said Kangeris, adding that he thinks this could happen in the case of Estonia.

The relatives of the victims say two things keep bothering them. First is that the victims have not been buried and don't have a grave. And the second is that we'll never learn the true reason why Estonia sank.

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