Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto says the findings of a Swedish documentary crew, that there is a hole in the hull of the sunken Estonia passenger ferry, appear to be trustworthy.
The documentary used underwater footage to show a four-metre high hole in the hull of the ship, which sank on 28 September 1994 with the loss of 852 lives.
Haavisto said on Tuesday that the footage appears to be genuine, but there was no indication of what may have caused the damage.
"Information I received from Estonia, among other sources, I believe that it is not a hole made by people, and it wasn't caused by an explosion," said Haavisto. "It would apparently take a big hit to the side of the ship to cause a hole like that, but that is all we know."
Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet says it has seen the footage shot by the Discovery Channel film crew and reports that the new pictures do not suggest that there could have been an explosion.
Experts interviewed by the film-makers suggest that the damage was caused by outside contact, meaning that the Estonia must have hit something. The hole is four metres high and 1.2 metres wide.
Estonia could lead investigation
The Finnish, Swedish and Estonian Foreign Ministers released a joint statement on Tuesday saying that they would cooperate in investigating the new evidence, while respecting agreements not to disturb the final resting place of the victims.
Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas also held a press conference on the matter.
"These new facts raise questions which have to be answered," said Ratas, who said his country could lead the investigation to ensure respect for the wreck and the transparency of the process.
"Our message is that we don't know anything, until we have conducted thorough technical research," said Ratas. "We have been in touch with a company which says it can do it without disturbing the grave."
The three countries have not yet agreed how the costs of the probe will be split.
The head of Estonia's investigation into the tragedy, Margus Kurm, told the Postimees paper that the ship could have struck a submarine.
He based that claim on the fact that the biggest damage occurred below the waterline, and there were no other ships in the area.
He said there was a Swedish naval operation ongoing at the time of the accident, and the Swedish navy could have been involved in the sinking.
He also said it was possible that the M/S Estonia could have been escorted because of cargo it was carrying.
The ship sank off the south-western Finnish archipelago 55 minutes after the crew raised the alarm, on its journey from Tallinn to Stockholm.
The official verdict on the sinking was that the vessel went down because the bow doors separated from the ship.
"The damage could have affected the speed at which the ship sank," Professor of Maritime Technology Jørgen Amdahl told Aftonbladet.
The wreck of the Estonia lies on a soft, muddy part of the seabed, and it has turned over the years. That's why the damage has only become visible now, according to the documentary makers.
The film-makers are being prosecuted in Gothenburg District Court for disturbing a grave.