The two men, Henrik Evertsson and Linus Andersson, are Swedish nationals, who filmed the wreck in 2019 as part of a documentary which aired on the Discovery Channel in Sweden last year.
Evertsson and Andersson were acquitted by the first-tier court in the city of Gothenburg on Monday, BNS reports. The development follows a decision by Swedish authorities last December to relax restrictions at the site, currently off-limits under all circumstances, ahead of a potential new investigation into the September 1994 disaster, which claimed the lives of 852 people.
The ensuing documentary Evertsson and Andersson were making has itself been a catalyst for a new investigation after footage showed a large hole in the ferry’s hull, which has led to claims the official explanation of the sinking – a sheared-off bow visor which allowed seawater to penetrate the vehicle deck in heavy seas – does not paint the full picture.
Documentary makers’ film itself contributed to fresh calls for new MS Estonia investigation
Unaired footage allegedly contains images of other holes in the hull.
The Gothenburg court found that, while the pair had been in violation of an international agreement from 1995 on the Estonia‘s grave peace, since they were sailing under the German flag in international waters, they could not be convicted.
The footage was obtained by a dive robot rather than a human diver.
Germany is not party to the agreement; the recent case was the first time alleged breaches in the law on the issue had resulted in a case.
Pair had faced fines or jail time
The two men, who pleaded not guilty, were facing hefty fines or up to two years’ prison time, had they not been cleared.
At least one of the defendants had been residing in Oslo, Norway for some of the time following the 2019 dive.
Opponents of the hole theory say that the force required to create a hole of the dimensions shown in the Evertsson/Andersson footage would have needed to have been substantial. None of the 137 survivors of the sinking have reported any incident which would match such a force.
Survivors and relatives have nonetheless fought for decades for a fuller investigation.
Claims that the bow visor explanation was unsatisfactory predate the Evertsson/Andersson film.
The MS Estonia was sailing from Tallinn overnight, bound for Stockholm, when she sank in heavy seas in the early hours of September 28, 1994.
The incident was the worst peacetime shipping disaster in European waters in history, and the second worst involving a European ship after the Titanic sank in 1912.