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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ferry Aftermath Tears Families' Hearts

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Three years after the ferry Estonia was ripped apart by the stormy Baltic Sea, the hearts of victims' relatives are torn by bitterness over the government's response to the disaster.


On Sunday, the anniversary of the sinking that killed 852 people, a monument to the victims opened in Stockholm. But relatives want much more than just the names of their loved ones chiseled in stone.


For one, they want the bodies recovered from the wreckage, at least to give them a sense of closure that could soothe the ache of loss.


"People losing their children, a family member -- that will live forever. Those people cannot understand why they cannot be given the opportunity to end the life of that relative here on Earth in a decent way,'' said Lennart Berglund, an activist for victims' relatives, whose mother-in-law and father-in-law died in the sinking.


And they want answers from the government about how the accident happened. If those answers don't come, the government "will have destroyed the lives of at least 50 percent of the relatives,'' Berglund said.


A Swedish-Finnish-Estonian commission investigating the disaster is supposed to provide some answers in its final report. But the report has been repeatedly delayed and trust in the commission is low.


"I have never been in a situation where there was such bitterness and disillusionment over the government's actions,'' Olle Hammarstroem, whose wife died on the Estonia, was quoted by the Swedish news agency TT as saying.


"Many relatives grieve because the Estonia question apparently can never be brought to a conclusion,'' he said.


There's little doubt that the disaster began when waves up to six meters high ripped off the Estonia's visor-like bow door and water poured into the vehicle deck as the ship headed for Stockholm from Tallinn, Estonia.


Beyond that, there's little but questions: Did the bow door's locks fail because of poor design or poor maintenance; was the ship traveling too fast for such conditions; was the crew even keeping an eye on the bow door; did they respond adequately once the trouble became obvious?


Meanwhile, newspapers uncovered letters written by a now-deceased commission member in which he told the ship's builder that details on the bow-door locks would not be made public.


The Swedish government last year suspended its plan to entomb the wreckage under layers of sand and rock after protests from relatives. It said the move was necessary to protect the wreck from scavengers, but relatives saw the plan as a guarantee that final facts could never be known.


Berglund bitterly contrasted what he sees as the government's attempts at a cover-up with its recent promise of a full investigation of Sweden's forced-sterilizations program, which ended in 1976.


"That happened 20 years ago. This was three years ago. It's unbelievable,'' he said.