Fifteen years ago today, 852 people were killed when the passenger ferry MS Estonia sank on its regular voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm. It was one of the deadliest maritime disasters in recent history, and it shook the young Estonian nation (independence had been achieved just three years earlier) to the core.
The Estonia was a massive and luxurious ship, 510 feet long and nine decks high. It plied the waters of the Baltic Sea every night; it was, for most Estonians and Swedes, the principal mode of transportation between the two Baltic capitals.
There were 989 passengers and crew on board the Estonia when it left Tallinn the night of 27 September 1994; 147 of them were rescued, but 852 were not.
The number of Estonian victims was 285, representing a significant portion of the population. (By comparison, a disaster affecting the same proportion of the United States population would claim about 60,000 lives.) I was living in Tallinn at the time, and I remember the enormous sense of loss that pervaded the capital for many weeks afterwards. Almost every Estonian had a friend or family member who died aboard the ferry.
The image above shows the Tallinn monument to the victims of the tragedy. An emotionally-wrenching, minute-by-minute account of the sinking is contained in The Outlaw Sea, by William Langewiesche. And there’s a good overview of the various investigations into the cause of the tragedy here.