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Salvage Teams Offer to Refloat Sunken Ferry, Find Bodies

October 5, 1994

TURKU, Finland (AP) _ Salvage teams from several countries have swamped investigators with offers to refloat the ferry Estonia or retrieve bodies trapped in the vessel on the Baltic seabed.

The Estonia sank off the southwest Finnish coast last week, killing more than 900 people. The ferry lies 180 to 280 feet under water, making any attempt to haul it up or retrieve bodies difficult.

″We’ve had all sorts of offers from companies in Scotland, the Netherlands and Norway,″ Tuomo Karppinen, a member of the accident investigative commission, said Tuesday.

″However, we cannot make decisions on retrieving the bodies or refloating the ship. Those will happen at a much higher, political level,″ he told The Associated Press. He did not say how the salvage teams proposed to bring up the bodies, or how much money they might be asking for the job.

The Estonia sank with nearly 1,000 people aboard while traveling from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 28.

Only 137 of those on board were saved. Most of the dead were Swedes.

A Swedish member of the nine-man commission, Olof Forssberg, said his government was under pressure to find the lost bodies.

″I think we should do everything in our power to refloat the ferry,″ Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said Tuesday.

Bad weather may delay any major action at the site until next year.

Ingvar Carlsson, who will replace Bildt as head of the Swedish government Friday, said efforts should be made to bring up the wreck.

But investigators say the cost could be prohibitive.

″There’s a good case for floating the vessel but we are talking in sums upward of $100 million,″ Karppinen said. ″At the moment, there’s a fifty- fifty chance of it happening.″

A Norwegian salvage vessel was bound for the accident spot, some 70 miles south of Turku, Finnish radio reported.

The ship could be ready to begin work as early as today, said Leif Birger Wallenius, a representative of Stolt Comex Seaway, which owns the salvage ship.

Kari Lehtola, a Finnish member of the commission, said it was too early to say whether salvaging the vessel was feasible.

″We really just don’t know at this stage,″ Lehtola said, after viewing 16 hours of video film taken by underwater robot cameras. ″If they do refloat it, it will be one of the major flotations in maritime history.″

Investigators decided Tuesday to retrieve more sonar pictures of the wreck before taking further action.

″It’s an eerie thought to have passengers on other ferries passing over the area thinking, there are 900 bodies down there,″ said Karppinen, the investigative commission member.

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