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Justice

Trial opens in France of 1994 Estonia ferry disaster

People in front of the Estonia ferry disaster memorial in Stockholm
People in front of the Estonia ferry disaster memorial in Stockholm Tobias Rostlund/AFP

French company Bureau Veritas, which was responsible for the Estonia ferry’s safety, and Meyer Werft, the German ferry constructor, are defendants in a case that opened Friday in Nanterre, north of Paris, brought by over a thousand survivors and relatives of victims of the 1994 disaster.

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The Estonia car ferry, connecting Tallinn and Stockholm, sank with 989 people on board in the early hours of 28 September 1994. Only 137 survived. It remains Europe’s worst maritime disaster.

Survivors and relatives of the victims received 130 million euros from the ferry’s owner, EstLine, for damages. But Maxime Cordier, one of the lawyers representing the 1,115 plaintiffs, says that does not take into account compensation for pain and suffering.

The case is being tried in Nanterre, because Bureau Veritas has its headquarters. It will be the first trial in the case, 25 years after the disaster.

An investigation concluded in 1997 found that the locks on the ferry’s prow door had not held up to the strain of the waves, and had separated from the vessel, allowing water to flood the car deck.

But it has been impossible to determine with certainty what caused the disaster. The ferry was not brought up to the surface, and Bureau Veritas has refused an independent investigation

The case has been making its way through French courts since 1996, and has been retried on appeal twice. A ruling is expected in July

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