Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1994

Estonia sinks

On this day in 1994, 852 people die in one of the worst maritime disasters of the century when the Estonia, a large car-and-passenger ferry, sinks in the Baltic Sea.

The German-built ship was traveling on an overnight cruise from Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, to Stockholm, Sweden, when it sank off the coast of Finland. Estonia, a former Soviet republic that gained its independence in 1991 (the last Russian troops left in 1994), was a popular and affordable travel destination for Swedes. The Estonia was a type of ferry known as a “ro-ro,” which featured a smorgasbord, live music, dancing and drinking and allowed people to drive vehicles onto one end of the ship and drive off on the other end.

After hitting stormy weather, with waves reaching an estimated 15 to 20 feet, the Estonia went down in the middle of the night. Many passengers were trapped inside the ship, while others, even some who managed to make it into lifeboats, later drowned in the frigid water or died from hypothermia. Helicopters were used to rescue most of the 137 survivors.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a joint Swedish-Finnish-Estonian government committee ruled it an accident and blamed it on stormy weather that caused water to pour through an open bow door and into the Estonia’s car deck, destabilizing the ship and capsizing it in less than an hour. However, there were others, including some family and friends of the Estonia victims, who believed the sinking was the result of a pre-existing hole caused by a collision or explosion.

Two years after the sinking of the Estonia, the Bukoba, a passenger steamship, went down in Lake Victoria near Tanzania in May 1996, leaving an estimated 1,000 people dead. In September 2002, a Senegalese passenger ferry, the Joola, sank off the coast of Gambia, resulting in at least 1,800 casualties. By comparison, when the ocean liner Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg off of Newfoundland on its maiden voyage in April 1912, approximately 1,500 lives were lost.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Penicillin discovered

Sir Alexander Fleming was a young bacteriologist when an accidental discovery led to one of the great developments of modern medicine on this day in 1928. Having left a plate of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered, Fleming noticed that a mold that had fallen on the culture had ...read more

Pompey the Great assassinated

Upon landing in Egypt, Roman general and politician Pompey is murdered on the orders of King Ptolemy of Egypt. During his long career, Pompey the Great displayed exceptional military talents on the battlefield. He fought in Africa and Spain, quelled the slave revolt of Spartacus, ...read more

Cabrillo discovers San Diego Bay

On this day in 1542, the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovers San Diego Bay while searching for the Strait of Anian, a mythical all-water route across North America. Cabrillo was not the first to search for a water passage across the North American continent, and he ...read more

TV host Ed Sullivan born

On this day in 1901, Ed Sullivan, who will become the host of the long-running TV variety program The Ed Sullivan Show, is born in New York City. During the peak of its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, Sullivan’s programshowcased a wide range of entertainers, including Elvis ...read more

Flu epidemic hits Philadelphia

On this day in 1918, a Liberty Loan parade in Philadelphia prompts a huge outbreak of the flu epidemic in the city. By the time the epidemic ended, an estimated 30 million people were dead worldwide. Influenza is a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory system and ...read more

Battle of Yorktown begins

On this day in 1781, General George Washington, commanding a force of 17,000 French and Continental troops, begins the siege known as the Battle of Yorktown against British General Lord Charles Cornwallis and a contingent of 9,000 British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, in the most ...read more