French court rejects Estonia ferry disaster compensation

The bow door of the sunken ferry M/S Estonia is lifted from the bottom of the sea. Credit: JAAKKO AVIKAINEN/AFP/Getty Images

A Paris high court has rejected a claim for compensation brought by family members of the 852 victims of the 1994 MS Estonia sinking, as well as the survivors, potentially worth EUR40 million (USD45 million) in psychological damages.

The 1,116 plaintiffs were suing German shipbuilder Jos L Meyer Werft, which delivered the vessel in 1980, for damages, as well as classification society Bureau Veritas, which inspected the vessel twice in the year of the accident. The plaintiffs argued the vessel’s bow door, now eschewed in modern car carrier designs, was intrinsically problematic.

However, the court said the claimants failed to prove “intentional fault”.

The sinking of the MS Estonia occurred in the Baltic Sea, en route from Estonia to Sweden on 28 September 1994.

After the disaster, the Swedish-Estonian shipping company that owned MS Estonia agreed to pay EUR130 million for loss and damages to survivors and next of kin through an indemnity fund. The then-operator of the ferry, Swedish-Estonian company Estline, paid the total amount in damages in the aftermath of the accident, before going bankrupt in 2001.