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Filmmakers acquitted over filming Estonia ferry wreck

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A Swedish court on Monday acquitted two filmmakers charged with violating the sanctity of the wreck of the Estonia ferry, which sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994 killing 852 people in one of the 20th century’s worst maritime disasters.

The team sent a remote-operated submersible to the ship while filming a documentary that revealed a massive hole in the ship’s hull, helping to cast doubt on the findings of an official investigation into the sinking.

After deciding not to salvage the wreck, Sweden, Estonia and Finland agreed in 1995 to designate it a final resting place and make it illegal to disturb the site, and this was the first time the law was applied.

The two Swedes — the documentary’s director and a deep sea analyst — faced a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years but were cleared of the charges.

Despite acknowledging that the pair had committed actions that were punishable under the so-called Estonia law, the court found that they could not be held accountable since they were on a German flagged ship in international waters at the time.

While several countries have signed on to the 1995 accord, Germany has not.

The team’s discoveries sparked calls for a new probe into the cause of the disaster and in December Sweden announced plans to amend the law to allow a re-examination of the wreck.

The original inquiry concluded that the disaster was caused by the bow door of the ship being wrenched open in heavy seas, allowing water to gush into the car deck, and the countries involved have been reluctant to re-examine the issue.

Experts however told the filmmakers that only a massive external force would be strong enough to cause the rupture, raising questions about what really happened that night.

Survivors and relatives of those killed have fought for over two decades for a fuller investigation, with some claiming — even before the new hole was revealed — that the opening of the bow visor would not have caused the vessel to sink as quickly as it did.

The ship, which was sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm, went down in under one hour in the early hours of September 28, 1994, leaving only 137 survivors.