Engineering Disasters Affected On The Society Engineering Essay

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This document gives an overview of the sinking of the Estonian Ferry "MV Estonia" that took place on September 28, 1994 in which 852 lives were lost. The motive behind this paper is to show how the study of engineering disasters determines how engineering affects the society and the roles engineers ought to play in the society. This document also effect of engineering failures on the practice of engineering and on governance. An image of the vessel before the accident can be seen in figure 1a. Figure 1b shows the route MV Estonia was travelling and site of the accident.

C:\Users\Compaq\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.Word\ship 1.jpg(a) C:\Users\Compaq\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.Word\pg19.jpg (b)

Figure 1: (a) Shows the picture of the Vessel before the accident (b) is the picture of the route the vessel was travelling and the site of the accident. Investigation report on the capsizing of MV Estonia. Retrieved from

The MV Estonia Disaster

This section describes the accident. It is a summary of a detailed report given by the German 'Group of Experts' and the Joint Accident Investigation Commission (JAIC).

2.1 The accident

The Joint Accident Investigation Report thoroughly investigated the background and sequence of events that led to the foundering of MV Estonia, the detailed report is available on the website of the Accident Investigation Board of Finland. This paper summarizes the report as follows.

According to JAIC, MV Estonia was due at Stockholm at about 09:30. The weather condition was unfavourable as there was wind of 20-25 m/s and 6-10 meter waves. The ferry ran into the waves.

JAIC reported that the first sign of danger was an unusual sound of metal against metal around 01:00, when the ship was in the outskirts of Turku archipelago. The bow visor was checked and showed no signs of danger at that time. A frail female voice was heard over the public address system at about 01:20 sounding "Häire, häire, laeval on häire" which translates, in Estonian to "Alarm, alarm, there is alarm on the ship." Soon afterwards, an internal alarm for the crew was transmitted over the public address system then, the general lifeboat alarm followed. Soon the ferry lurched some 30-40 degrees to starboard and movement inside the ship became impossible, only those who were already on deck had the chance of survival. A "Mayday" was communicated by the ship crew at 01:22, but did not follow international formats, that single flaw hampered rescue operation somewhat because the position of the ship could not be tracked. The under dimensioned locks on the bow visor broke due to the strain of the waves and that caused the accident. When the visor broke off the ship, it brought the ramp, which covered the opening to the car deck behind the visor, down with it consequently, allowing water in on the car deck which destabilized the ship and started a calamitous sequence of events that foundered the ship. The hull of the wrecked ship is at 59° 23' N, 21° 42' E, about 22 nautical miles on bearing 157° from Utö Island, Finland. The picture of the wreckage on the seabed can be seen in figure 2.0. C:\Users\Compaq\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.Word\ship 2.jpg

Figure 2.0: A picture of the capsized ship. Investigation report on the capsizing of MV Estonia. Retrieved from

2.2 Immediate impacts of the accident

The accident had an immense impact on the global impression of maritime safety. 852 lives of the 989 people on board were lost by drowning and freezing to death in the cold water. According to the official causalities report by JAIC, 501 Swedes, 285 Estonians, 17 Latvians, 10 Finns and 44 people of other nationalities: 1 from Belarus, 1 from Canada, 1 from France, 1 from the Netherlands, 1 from Nigeria, 1 from Ukraine, 1 from United Kingdom, 2 from Morocco, 3 from Lithuania, 5 from Denmark, 6 from Norway, 10 from Germany, 11 from Russia. This made it an international catastrophe and put international pressure on both Estonia and Finland, where the accident took place for example, the aftermath of the disaster witnessed protests and demand for a thorough investigation into circumstances that led to the accident by the countries and families of the deceased. There were requests for recovery and burial of the bodies, some quarters even demanded that the ship should be removed from the sea bed for proper inspection.

This demands put huge sanctity and financial burden on Estonia and Finland. The suggestion by the Swedish government was considered i.e. burying the whole ship in situ with a shell of concrete.

There was also the diplomatic impact for example, the signing of a treaty in 1995 by key members of the European Union which had nationals in the disaster, barring access to the site of the wreck and a suspension of the treaty later in 2006 due to protests.

Investigation of the MV Estonia Disaster

The following sections show the investigation of the accident, the findings and recommendations.

3.1 The investigation

The German group of expert was commissioned to investigate the MV Estonia disaster. They worked and came up with a report after five years. The work was done in close co-operation with the Swedish leader of the Technical Group of the Joint Accident Investigation Commission of Estonia, Finland and Sweden (JAIC). Their documentation and information concerned the design, construction and building of M. V. ESTONIA in general and the locking devices of the bow visor in particular, including the load calculations, the co-operation with the Classification Society Bureau Veritas, and the Owners. Moreover, detailed evaluations of all survivors' statements, statements and other documentation such as photos and videos showing the condition of safety of significant parts of the ferry before the casualty obtained from previous passengers and crew members were submitted. The JAIC also submitted its own information and documentation and up until the end of 1996 a somewhat intense exchange of views and technical discussions was witnessed. A very meticulous assessment of the condition of the visor performed by metallurgical experts, of the objects recovered from the wreck or cut off from the visor, of the video films from the wreck made by ROVs and divers, of the testimony of shipyard workers having participated in the design, construction and building. Previous passengers and crew members of the ferry as well as of survivors of the disaster form the backbone of this Investigation Report and are the basis for its conclusions. Breaking tests with mock-ups of the Atlantic lock were carried out by the Institute for Shipbuilding of the Hamburg University in collaboration with a member and an expert from the Finnish part of the JAIC. It became evident that the JAIC had different technical findings and conclusions published in the in a Part-Report in April 1995. The 1995 part-report of the JAIC indicated a totally different chain of causation and sequence of events from the evidence submitted by the 'Group of Experts' and others. Therefore it was decided to demonstrate investigation results to the Swedish public in two Exhibitions in Stockholm, because Sweden had the highest death toll in the disaster. The Swedish public followed the investigations very closely. As from the Exhibitions - especially after the second - considerable support was received from Swedish citizens and further contact was made with a number of very important witnesses of fact.

3.2 Findings

The findings of the German group of experts, the JAIC, and other independent investigations were evaluated by the Government and people of Estonia, Sweden and Finland and it was discovered that though there were disparities in the documentation of the events that led to the accident, the causes of the accident however, remained the same.

The accident was blamed mainly on the failure of the bow visor attachments under wave impact loads. The failure was primary due to local overload. The attachments were not designed to withstand even the rather moderate wave condition at the time of the accident. Bureau Veritas had no detailed rules for design of visor locking devices and hinges. BV requested the locking devices to be approved by Finnish Administration. The Finnish administration did not make any hull surveys because the ship was classed under the rules of an approved classification society. The shipyard made rough estimates of wave loads according to other guidelines and rules available at the time (but which later have been significantly strengthened up). The assumptions made did not reflect realistic load distributions.

Summarily, it was found that

The locking devices were not manufactured properly according to the design intent.

The forward ramp was integrated in the visor structure and was thus forced open when the visor attachments failed.

There was no collision bulkhead extension in proper position according to SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea). The ramp was located to far forward to fulfill the requirements.

The fully open car decks on these ferry designs make them extremely sensible to water ingress.

The officers did not reduce speed or change course when the first indications of something being wrong at the bow or the forward part of the car deck was given.

The bow visor could not be seen from the conning position, and the indicator lamps for locked visor did not detect the failure of the locking devices.

The ship was turned towards the waves when the ship started to heel over.

The rapidly developed list to starboard could not be compensated by the heeling tanks since the port tank already was full at departure.

The buoyancy reserve in the superstructure diminished when windows and doors broke and progressive flooding started.

The failure of the visor was due to engineering and design flaws. The design and engineering was substandard. According to the German

group of experts, Bureau Veritas had no rules for design of visor attachments, they merely made a note on the drawing that the locking devices should be examined and approved by the national authority. The shipyard made hand calculations of required cross sectional area of all attachment points as requested by Bureau Veritas. The calculation of load distribution during the design was inaccurate. According to experts, "A design wave pressure on projected areas of 54 kPa was used in shipyard calculations. (LR-78 would have given 30/60 kPa, GL: 157 kPa.)

A resultant design load of 1 MN per attachment was calculated giving a required cross sectional area of 6100 mm2." The actual installation found was made of mild steel and the cross sectional area of the bottom lock was notably less than required.

Analysis of the ultimate strength in the installation as found to be severely low.

The pictures showing the summary of damage of the visor can be seen below in figure 3a and 3b.



Figure 3: (a) is an explanatory sketch of the damaged visor; (b) is the picture of the damaged visor. Summary of MV Estonia accident. Retrieved from

3.3 Recommendations

The investigators recommended regular identification, design and inspection of essential safety components.

They also suggested upgrading of existing vessels according to new requirements, that is, the strength of the visor locking devices would be 5 - 10 times higher.

To reduce the number of poorly engineered vessels on the international water ways, it was recommended that there should be strict compliance with SOLAS regulations.

Better training for ship crew for immediate actions in case of possible water ingress was also recommended as correct actions at the time of the first indications (reported sounds from the bow) would have saved the ship.

There should be relevant alarm indicators in place as such would have showed when the visor was detached.

Functioning life-saving equipment would have saved many lives i.e. equipment for taking people from the sea on board other vessels.

Impact of MV Estonia disaster on Engineering practice

Unfortunately, it cannot be said that the MV Estonia disaster have caused tremendous improvement in the engineering and design of ferries on international water ways however, it would be unjust if improvement in the regulation of standard procedures of vessels manufacture is left unmentioned. There have been three other accidents involving Ro-Ro vessels (Ro-Ro is the classification vessels as the MV Estonia) after the Estonia wreck. The three other accidents claimed almost 1082 lives that would have been saved had the recommendation for design and engineering improvement in the aftermath of MV Estonia disaster been totally implemented.

Notwithstanding, the MV Estonia triggered a radical revision of the SOLAS regulation. After the accident, the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) commissioned a panel of experts to see to how safety of passengers on Ro-Ro ferries can be enhanced. The experts put forward recommendations which led to the amendment of the SOLAS regulation in July, 1997. The amendment involved the integration of light into life jackets, all life rafts to posses float free stowage, all life rafts to possess semi rigid boarding ramp fitted to at least one entrance, life rafts to be either automatically triggered or canopied reversible with safety features, and the introduction of cans of rescue on every Ro-Ro passenger ships. These, among other amendments made engineers aware of safety requirements and help engineers and designers build better vessels.

Also noteworthy, there has not been any accident due to poor visor design and engineering since the MV Estonia this indicates that the accident brought about an improvement in the engineering of visors.


Poor design and engineering caused the MV Estonia accident which claimed 852 lives from various countries on the globe. The MV Estonia accidents has caused a significant improvement in the maritime safety, help improve engineering and consequently boosting the confidence of passengers in sea transportation. The accident is said to have taken the greatest toll of human life in the Baltic Sea. It attracted international attention and enjoyed a broad range of experts' investigation. As a result of the accident, Engineering and design have been revolutionised and there has been improvement in sea safety regulations resulting from the recommendations of the investigation and led to the upgrading of many passenger ferries.

Work cited