More than 1,000 people including survivors and the families of victims of Europe’s worst peacetime shipping disaster took their claims for compensation to a French court on Friday, 25 years after the sinking of MV Estonia in the Baltic Sea.
The ferry went down on the morning of September 28, 1994, while travelling between Tallinn and Stockholm, killing 852 of the 989 people on board.
Following the incident, an international commission established to investigate the accident concluded in a 1997 report that the problem had been a defect in the bow-door locking system that opened onto the ferry’s car deck.
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The French court will assess whether shipbuilder Jos L. Meyer-Werft and the French certification agency, Bureau Veritas, which had inspected the ferry twice in 1994, should pay damages to the 1,116 plaintiffs.
Maxime Cordier, a lawyer acting for them, said the court would rule “who is responsible for the negligence in the conception and the operation of the vessel”.
It has taken more than twenty years of efforts in the French legal system to have the case heard and the claimants are asking for more than 40 million euro ($45 million) for psychological damages, Cordier said.
After the disaster, the Swedish-Estonian shipping company that owned the MV Estonia agreed to pay 130 million euros ($147 million) for loss and damages to survivors and next of kin through an indemnity fund.
The hearings, which are scheduled for Friday and Monday, will take place in front of a French high court on the outskirts of Paris, near the headquarters of Bureau Veritas. A verdict is expected in July.
The claimants will seek to show that the design of the ferry was intrinsically dangerous because of the opening mechanism at the front of the vessel, designed to allow vehicles to drive off quickly.
The MV Estonia has never been raised from the seabed, 85 metres (280 feet) down, and the wreck remains off limits to divers.