French court rejects claim over 1994 Estonian ferry disaster

PARIS (AP) — A Paris court rejected a compensation claim Friday related to the 1994 sinking of an Estonian ferry, which remains one of Europe’s deadliest maritime disasters.

The court ruled on the claim from more than 1,000 survivors and relatives of victims of the accident in which a car ferry connecting the Estonian capital of Tallinn with Stockholm sank on Sept. 28, 1994, killing 852 people.

They sought 40.8 million euros ($46 million) from the French agency Bureau Veritas that deemed the ship seaworthy and the German shipbuilder Meyer-Werft.

But the French court in the western suburb of Nanterre threw out the claim, citing a lack of “intentional fault” attributable to either company in the case, the second-deadliest peacetime sinking of a European ship after the Titanic.

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Henning Witte, a German lawyer who represents relatives in the case, told that Swedish news agency TT that the ruling was, “of course, a disappointment.”

“The circus continues. It is absolutely scandalous how the events around the Estonia disaster are being ignored, and especially the relatives,” Witte said.

Raivo Hellerma, a spokesman for Memento Mare, a group that represents mainly Estonian victims of the disaster, was more stoic, saying “we had no expectations” in the case. Hellerman lost his wife in the sinking.

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

The case has been making its way through French courts since 1996, and had been retried on appeal twice.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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