SWEDEN ENDS FERRY DISASTER INVESTIGATION

SWEDEN ENDS FERRY DISASTER INVESTIGATION

Sweden has officially closed the book on Europe's worst-ever peacetime shipping disaster, the sinking of the Estonia ferry, with a decision not to press charges against anyone.

''There is not enough evidence to take action against anyone involved,'' said Tomas Lindstrand, chief prosecutor. ''For legal action, I would have to prove negligence from a specific person and I can't prove anything.''However, relatives and friends of the 852 people who perished in the disaster are continuing to pursue a civil claim in a district court in France. The huge ferry sank in the Baltic Sea off Finland in September 1994.

''This case has become too political with three countries involved, and that is why no official action is being taken,'' said lawyer Henning Witte, who is representing the Swedish relatives' International Support Group.

''But the 944 friends and relatives that we represent are determined to continue their action and get damages.''

The support group is seeking damages from German shipyard Meyer Werft; the French classification group Bureau Veritas, which approved the ship for use as a ferry; and the Swedish Maritime Administration, which inspected it for safety.

All deny any blame.

The Estonia was on an overnight trip from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, to Stockholm when its bow door gave way during a heavy storm and water flooded the car deck.

The 15,989-ton roll-on, roll-off car and passenger ferry sank quickly, trapping many of the 989 passengers below decks.

Of about 300 people who scrambled to the outer decks, only 137 survived the disaster. Many drowned or died of exposure and exhaustion during the rescue operation.

Following an investigation by representatives from Sweden, Finland and Estonia, a report was finally released last December.

The report, delayed by internal bickering and resignations, blamed technical factors for the disaster but implied more could have been done by the crew and rescuers to save lives.

Mr. Lindstrand, who questioned about 200 people as well as studying the commission's final report, said it was impossible to prove a crime had been committed as most of the crew had perished.