Monday, May 29, 2006

A Study in Questions

The Hole is a study of the Estonia tragedy, the sinking of a giant passenger and car ferry in the Baltic Sea in September 1994 which caused the deaths of nearly 1,000 people in the space of 35 minutes, Drew Wilson presents the results of nearly three years of research and writing. He has assembled most or all of the available evidence, in order to contest and challenge the findings of the official investigation, which attributed the cause of the disaster to the failure of locks on the ship’s bow visor, and in order to survey and collate the results of all the independent investigations and theories that have sprung up as a consequence of the evident inconsistencies and loose ends left by the official inquiry.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a veritable industry in conspiracy theories developed around it. Some of these theories were promoted by Russian government sources seeking to generate disinformation from the event. An example is the so-called “Felix Report” – in reality the work of one FSB officer who in the 1990s was assigned the task of implicating Estonia and Chechnya in “international terrorism”, in order to turn Western opinion against those countries. But there were other, genuine independent investigations which came up with questions and demands for explanation which have still not been answered by the relevant authorities. Such, for example, is the work of the German journalist Jutta Rabe, who conducted her own investigations and wrote a book which accuses the Russian special services of being responsible for the sinking.

Drew Wilson has drawn attention to most of the theories and counter theories that exist in connection with the tragedy, and has done so in great detail, with the help of diagrams, photographs, eyewitness reports and many other materials. Above all, he is convinced that in order for the ferry to have sunk in such a short time – 35 minutes – it must have had a hole in the hull. In order to support this contention, he produces much convincing evidence, and also compares the disaster to events like the sinking of the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff by a Soviet submarine during a storm in 1945. Even after three torpedoes had struck it, the ship took one hour to sink – almost twice the length of the time it took for the Estonia to go to the bottom.

The book also focuses on the extreme eagerness of the Swedish authorities to control evidence of the wreck. In particular, it concentrates on the Swedish government’s proposal – a proposal very nearly implemented – of burying the wreck in concrete, a suggestion which immediately reminded many observers of the large concrete structure erected around the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. There is evidence, Wilson makes clear, that the Swedish authorities were and still are involved in some kind of cover-up in connection with the sinking of the Estonia, in which some 500 Swedish citizens lost their lives. Taking advantage of the suffering of the victims’ relatives, the Swedish authorities refused to allow the retrieval of the wreck on the grounds that this would be too disturbing.

The Hole is published at an appropriate time, with the recent release of the Estonian government special report on the military shipments which, it has been confirmed, Swedish military intelligence arranged in the early 1990s, using the Estonia to ferry quantities of secret electronic equipment from recently-vacated military bases in the Baltic States. Further investigation is, however, blocked by the Estonia Agreement of 1995, and it is to be hoped that the book will reanimate efforts to have the agreement rescinded, so that the true story may finally emerge.

What does emerge from Wilson’s book is the deeply uneasy nature of relations between the Russian Federation and the nations of Europe, including the Baltic States. It also throws new light on the real nature of the conflict in Chechnya, using the research of the murdered U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov to show that during the early 1990s the Russian government was involved in widespread covert criminal activities which were aimed first at undermining the newly-restored democratic order in Estonia, and then at destroying the independence of Chechnya, whose leaders had taken inspiration from the Estonian independence movement.

Drew Wilson: The Hole: Another Look At The Sinking Of The Estonia Ferry On September 28, 1994. Exposure Publishing, Diggory Press, April 2006.
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