This is hardly news, as the article was published late last year, however it is a worthwhile reminder that a combination of diligent design and maintenance as well as crew competence are essential to ship safety.
Design faults and incompetent crew contributed to the sinking of the Estonia ferry in which 852 people died, according to an official report. The Estonia was sailing from Tallinn in Estonia to Stockholm in Sweden on September 27, 1994, when towering Baltic waves ripped off its visor-style bow door and water poured into the vehicle deck. The ship capsized and sank off the Finnish coast, trapping most passengers inside. Only 137 people survived the disaster while 94 who managed to leave the 15,598-tonne vessel died in freezing water.
The final report on Europe's worst post-World War II maritime disaster said the bow door had badly designed locks. It adds that faster reaction by the crew could have increased the Estonia's chances of survival. The report concludes: "The bow door visor attachments were not designed to realistic design assumptions." It says that the door locks should have been five times stronger.
The Estonia, a roll-on roll-off car and passenger ferry, had been ploughing through waves of up to four meters (13ft) and "the failure occurred in what were most likely the worst wave conditions she ever encountered".
Reports say while the ship was basically seaworthy and properly manned, it was going too fast and officers responded slowly to noises from the bow. "A rapid decrease in speed would have significantly increased the chances of survival."
The ship's alarms - warning passengers and crew - did not sound until five minutes after the Estonia began listing heavily. By then, it was difficult for passengers to escape. The lifesaving equipment did not work well and lifeboats could not be lowered, largely due to the list.
A separate report commissioned by the ship's builders said the bow door failure was due to poor maintenance and excessive speed. It said locks were repositioned and new welds were weaker than the originals. It also said the vehicle ramp, which folded up inside the hull to make a watertight barrier, was out of alignment and breached international safety standards. The shipbuilders' report added that the watertight door had been leaking for weeks and was plugged by old mattresses. The builders claimed the crew had 40 minutes to save the ship.
Trust in the international commission's work was undermined by the resignation last year of chairman Andi Meister, who said Sweden was withholding information. In a book published in September, Mr Meister said the shipwreck has been visited and perhaps plundered by unauthorised divers. The ship's navigational computer has never been found, raising suspicion it was stolen, he said. Olof Forssberg, head of the Swedish part of the commission, quit this year (1998) after admitting he lied about receiving a letter connected to the case. A Swedish expert also left, saying he no longer trusted the commission's work.
More information: BBC News