Viking Mariella ferry accidents and incidents

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In September 1994, the vessel assisted the rescue operation during MS Estonia shipwreck disaster.

  28 September 1994Boat Rescue

On September 28, 1994, Mariella was the first vessel arriving at the scene to assist the sinking MS Estonia (1980-built cruise ferry). This shipwreck disaster is ranked Europe's second-deadliest (after RMS Titanic) and the world's 3rd (after "MS Al-Salam Boccaccio 98" sinking) as it resulted in a total of 852 dead. The Mariella ship managed to pick up 15 survivors from the sea, plus another 11 brought by rescue helicopters as the ferry was used as main helicopter platform at the scene.

The disaster occurred between 0:55-1:50 am in Baltic Sea, as MS Estonia was en-route from Tallinn to Stockholm carrying a total of 989 people (803 passengers plus 186 crew). Being fully loaded, since the departure from Tallinn (7 pm, Sept 27), the ship was slightly listing to starboard due to poor cargo distribution.

The weather was reportedly rough - with strong winds (up to 70 kph / 45 mph) and high waves (up to 6 m / 20 ft). At ~1 am, the crew on MS Estonia heard a loud bang caused by a wave hitting its bow doors. The inspection was limited to checking the ramp's indicator lights and visor, which showed no problems. Over the next 10 min, similar metallic bangs were reported by both passengers and crew. At ~1:15 am, the bow door's visor separated, and the vessel immediately started heavily to list to starboard (initially to 40 degrees). By 1:30 am, the listing was 90 degrees and the water flooded the car deck. The vessel was turned to portside and slowed before it lost power completely.

At ~1:20 am was sounded the lifeboat alarm. The liner's rapid listing and flooding prevented many passengers in cabins from ascending to muster stations on the boat deck. At 01:22 am was issued the distress call, but it didn't follow international formats. The ship directed a call to the ferry Silja Europa and only after making this contact Estonia's radio operator utter "Mayday". In English, Silja Europa's radio operator replied: "Estonia, are you calling mayday?", after which the conversation shifted to Finnish. Due to the blackout on Estonia, the ship's exact position was not indicated, which also delayed the rescue. Some minutes later the position was received by the ferries Silja Europa and Mariella.

At ~1:50 am, MS Estonia disappeared from the radars of other vessels. The ship sank in international waters, approx 41 km / 25 ml from Utö island (Finland) to the depth of 85 m (279 ft).

For the rescue operation's on-scene commander was assigned the Captain of Silja Europa (Esa Makela). Mariella was the first of all 5 assisting ferries, arriving at the scene at 2:12 am. The full-scale emergency was declared at 2:30 am. Mariella deployed its liferafts into the water onto which 13 people on Estonia's liferafts were transferred. The ship also reported the location of other liferafts to the dispatched rescue helicopters (from both Sweden and Finland), the first of which arrived at 3:05 am. The Swedish helicopters transported survivors to shore, while Finnish helicopters started risky landings on the ferries' helipads.

Of all the 989 passengers on MS Estonia, 138 were rescued alive (1 later died in hospital). The assisting ships rescued 34, and the helicopters - 104. Unfortunately, due to rough seas, the ferries didn't launch their MOBs (rescue boats) and lifeboats.

Accident's death toll was 852 - 501 Swedes, 285 Estonians, 17 Latvians, 10 Finns, plus 44 of different nationalities (Belarus, Canada, France, Holland, Nigeria, Ukraine, USA, UK, Morocco, Lithuania, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Russia). Most died by drowning or hypothermia. Of all the dead, only 94 bodies were recovered. Most of the survivors were young males, of strong constitution. About 650 people were still inside the ship when it sank and remained there.

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