Written by Christopher Bollyn
Recent revelations in the Swedish mass media that Estonia was being used to smuggle Soviet military technology have confirmed long-held suspicions that the unexplained sinking of Estonia may have been connected to a secret space weapons cargo it was carrying.
Immediately before Estonia left Tallinn on its final voyage, Carl Övberg, a survivor and frequent passenger who had arrived at the last minute, reported that the harbor had been sealed off and that a military convoy had escorted two large trucks to the waiting ferry. As soon as the trucks were loaded, the ship's car ramp and bow visor were closed and the delayed ferry sailed for Stockholm.
Swedish state television (SVT 1) broadcast an investigative journalism program called Uppdrag Granskning on November 30, 2004, in which the former chief of customs in Stockholm confessed that Estonia had indeed been used to transport Soviet military technology to the West in September 1994.
According to former customs chief Lennart Henriksson, on two occasions shortly before Estonia sank, vehicles carrying Soviet military technology had been allowed to enter Sweden without any inspection. "I have been walking around thinking about what happened for ten years," Lennart Henriksson, Stockholm's former customs chief said. "Each time Estonia's name came up I've thought the little I know should be brought into the light of day. I want to clear my conscience."
Henriksson had been ordered to allow certain vehicles carrying Soviet military contraband to pass Swedish customs without inspection on September 14 and 20, 1994, but was not working the day Estonia sank because he was on vacation.
Henriksson's confession sheds new light on the sinking of Estonia. The ferry was a joint venture between a private Swedish company, Nordström & Thulin, and Estline, a company owned by the Estonian government. Prior to the SVT 1 exposé, reports of Soviet military technology being smuggled on the ferry had been dismissed as "conspiracy theories". Henriksson revealed that a secret agreement existed to allow military contraband cargo to enter Sweden without being inspected by customs. This arrangement was between Owe Wictorin, then supreme commander of Sweden's military and Ulf Larsson, then general director of Swedish customs. The arrangement was known at the highest level of the government as well as at the defense department.
Normally, Swedish customs searched every vehicle coming from Estonia. That a vehicle was to pass without inspection was something Henriksson had never seen in 38 years of service.
When the ferry arrived on Sept. 14, 1994, Henriksson spoke to the driver of the expected vehicle, a Volvo 745 station wagon driven by a Frank Larsson, a false identity.
When Henriksson told "Larsson" that customs was carrying out inspections, he "gave me a look, but I said the search would be faked", Henriksson said. "We opened a few boxes and as far as I could see it was military electronics in them."
The customs slip showed the car belonging to a non-existent company called "Ericsson Access AB", a fictitious subsidiary of Ericsson. No address was given.
Henriksson discovered later that the vehicle was a rental car. There is no evidence that Ericsson was actually involved in the smuggling. Although the Swedish military authorized the smuggling, the final destination of the Soviet technology is not known.
A week later, on September 20, 1994, a much larger shipment of contraband technology arrived and was allowed to pass without inspection. This time it was a van and, once again, Henriksson merely glanced into the boxes.
"What were you thinking this second time?" reporter Lars Borgnäs asked. "I thought it was a strange procedure," Henriksson said. "But orders are orders and you don't reflect too much on why." On December 2, 2004, two days after the SVT 1 exposé, the Swedish military confirmed on Ekot (The Swedish Broadcasting) that this secret agreement existed and is still in effect.