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Exhibition texts Estonia

Estonia, instruction

Start with the wall straight ahead to the left. Continue on the opposite wall, then move counterclockwise through the room.

The map shows the location of the remains, and the box contains short facts about it.

Facts about the find

FIND: The Estonian passenger ship MS Estonia.

PERIOD: At 01:50 Estonian time, 28 September 1994.

LOCATION: The open waters of the Baltic Sea, south of Finnish Utö.

EVENT: Shipwrecked during a powerful storm. Of the approximately 1,000 people on board, 137 survived.

A link between east and west

The MS Estonia was a fairly typical Baltic Sea vessel, a ferry that operated between Sweden and Finland for about ten years. In 1993, the ship was employed on the newly opened line between Stockholm and Tallinn under the name MS Estonia.

Only a few years earlier, Estonia had regained its independence after being occupied by the Soviet Union since World War II. Ferry traffic was on the rise and was becoming economically vital as well as symbolic. People who had been separated by war and occupation had greater possibilities to reunite.

On 28 September 1994, the MS Estonia sank during a severe storm. Of approximately 1,000 people on board, 137 survived. The accident is the Baltic Sea’s worst peacetime disaster. Today it is a designated marine grave site where diving is banned.

On board the MS Estonia

The MS Estonia was a combined car and passenger ferry. Every day, hundreds of people travelled on it. Among the passengers were leisure travellers, weekly commuters and professional drivers. Besides the staff, hired musicians and artists were usually on board.

The ship was completed in 1980 and had previously been owned by three other companies. It had gone by the names Viking Sally, Silja Star and Wasa King before the shipping company Estline took it over in 1993. Estline renovated the ship and renamed it Estonia.

The ship offered its passengers plenty of options for passing the time: shopping, restaurants and nightclubs, gambling, cinema, a pool and a sauna.

Images, film and objects

On the wall is an advertisement for cruises with Estonia with the headline:

Welcome aboard the new MS Estonia.

Film station

The film is about the 90's ferry traffic between Estonia, Sweden and Finland, and about its significance in relation to the Soviet occupation of the Baltics and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The spoken content is subtitled.

Café Neptunus

Shops, restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues were located on decks 4, 5 and 6. The ship also had a karaoke bar and a cinema, as well as a swimming pool and sauna on the lowest deck.

The aft staircase

The cabins were on deck 1 below the car deck and on deck 4 and above. Life jackets, life rafts and lifeboats were on decks 7 and 8. Passengers boarded on deck 5.

Name tag and key

Many people who survived were in one of the bars and restaurants that were still open. The name tag belonged to a waitress at the Baltic Bar. She donated it to the Swedish Maritime Museum in Stockholm. The key was donated by a bartender to the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn.

The travellers. Three portraits

Mikael Öun

Mikael’s father came from Estonia to Sweden after World War II. The country gained its independence in 1991, and after that Mikael gladly spent holidays there with his wife and children and visited his relatives.

He knew that many Estonians were having a tough time. Since he could borrow a truck from his workplace, he volunteered as a driver for one of Estonian Helpline’s shipments in September 1994. They were delivering furniture to a youth home in Tallinn, aid packages to families in Pärnu and a big restaurant oven to a school on Saaremaa.

On his way home, he felt relieved – the aid trip had gone well.

Mikael survived the disaster and still has the same job as an engineer. It is his alarm clock that's exhibited across the room.

Sara Hedrenius

Sara was 20 years old in 1994. She switched back and forth between extra jobs, some in health care, and devoted a lot of her time to riding and horses. But what life would bring was still unclear to her.

That was why she had travelled to Estonia – to discuss the future with her father, who ran a business there. After a couple of weeks, Sara decided to book a ticket back to Stockholm. Her bags contained a completed application to an art school in England.

Her art school application sank with the Estonia, but Sara survived. But art took a back seat to psychology, and today her job involves supporting people in crisis.

Marge Rull

Dance and movement are what makes Marge feel alive. That’s been the case her whole life, and still is. Today she works as a dance teacher and a Zumba and Pilates coach in her hometown of Pärnu.

When I dance I’m alive, and it’s nice to be alive, Marge tells.

In the 1990s, Marge was one of seven dancers in the Pantera troupe. In 1994, they had been invited to perform a show on M/S Estonia during the autumn. When asked if they could board a day earlier than agreed, the dance troupe immediately answered yes.

Marge and two other members of Pantera survived the disaster.

The sinking. Right of room divider.

Heavy winds are blowing when the MS Estonia departs Tallinn bound for Stockholm. It is 19:15 Estonian time, 27 September 1994.

The wind continues to increase during the evening, and the waves rise higher. Just after 1 a.m., the bow visor is ripped off the ship. Water floods into the car deck.

The ship lists, the engines stop, and alarms sound in the speakers.

At around 01:20, the Estonia sends out its first distress call. The nearby passenger ship Mariella tries to reply.

The list increases. The ship now lies on its side in the waves, and shortly thereafter sinks stern first.

Around 01:50, MS Estonia vanishes from the radar.

Alarm clock

Mikael Öun changed his alarm clock to Swedish time when he went to bed. When the ship lurched, his clock fell to the floor and stopped at 00:02 (01:02 Estonian time). When he left the cabin to escape the sinking ship, he put the clock in his pocket. He later donated it to the Maritime Museum in Stockholm.

Projection of text and sound

The radio traffic between Estonia and other ships during the night of the accident is played and subtitled.

The shared trauma. On room divider.

The Estonia accident is the Baltic Sea’s worst peacetime disaster. There were approximately 1,000 people on board from 17 nations. Most of them came from Estonia and Sweden, but Finland was also hit hard. The close relations between the three countries make the loss of citizens a shared trauma.

The sinking took place in international waters and several countries participated in the rescue effort. Estonia, Sweden and Finland established a joint commission of inquiry to investigate the accident.

There are many memorial sites and monuments around the Baltic Sea region. Although decades have passed since the accident, the grieving process is still shared to this day.

Part of the bow visor

The bow visor was opened to allow cars and trucks to drive off and onto the ferry. Parts of the bow visor´s locking mechanism are today part of the Maritime Museum´s collections.

The bow visor

MS Estonia’s bow visor has been salvaged. This part of the ship has great significance for many people. It has also played an important role when investigating the accident. Today, the bow visor is part of the Maritime Museum´s collections.


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Page last updated: 2021-09-07