Lost at sea

An opening narration from a Finnish television show about missing persons called Kadonneet stated: “For Finns, cruise trips represent a welcome disconnection from everyday life, a reach towards one’s dreams.” While there’s an element of dramatization evident there, the point is nevertheless spot-on: when Finns want to take a break from the mundane and the arcane, cheap cruises offer a valid option to be considered – and they’re very popular, indeed.

I live in a city with a port where cruise liners come and go every day, returning from the Sea and taking off towards it again and again and again. Regardless of the weekday, there are always customers heading towards the check-in, dragging their bags behind them. These liners also offer a very popular place for companies to hold seminars and conferences.

Alcohol plays a huge part in all this, as can be guessed. For many travelers, it’s as though the normal rules and regulations controlling the social dynamics of shame, guilt and hesitation no longer apply once the ship takes off from the shore, and many passengers will drink themselves half to death. Perhaps the faceless, disinterested sea surrounding the ships and their jolly customers inspire people to let go of their inhibitions – “who cares? We’re in the middle of the sea, accompanied by total strangers!”

Be that as it may, besides being platforms for fun, these cruises will also occasionally provide the setting for tragedies. Several people have gone missing from these cruises over the years, and it seems like the most obvious explanations (-> “got drunk and fell off the ship” or “committed suicide”) don’t always add up.

Here are three people who mysteriously vanished from Finnish cruise liners.

  1. Timo Suikkanen
Timo Suikkanen

One of the great rites of passage for a Finnish young man is walking out of the gates of the army barracks after your time of service is over. Military service is mandatory in Finland, and thus constitutes an experience that unites men across generations and social classes.

The year was 1998.

Timo Suikkanen was a 40-year-old construction foreman, married with children. His son had just entered this club of “military reserve”, and the occasion called for a celebration. His boy had decided that the celebration would entail a cruise with his army buddies. Like most Finns, his son knew that things could occasionally get pretty rowdy on these trips, so he asked his father Timo to join the group as a kind of overseer, a safe adult who would make sure no one got lost or hurt.

The irony is merciless – at some point in the night, as the ship is sailing through the dark vastness of the Baltic Sea, Suikkanen disappears completely. The last sightings of him are made by other passengers, who see him wondering around the pubs and shops of the liner. His last known words are directed at one of the young men from his son’s posse: “Where could buy a rose for my wife?”

Once his son realized he couldn’t find his father, he asked the staff at the ship’s info center to speak a public announcement through the ship’s speaker system, asking passenger Timo Suikkanen to staff. No response.

The police investigated the circumstances as well as humanly possibly. Security camera material was combed through, other passengers were interviewed, et cetera. Nothing. Suikkanen was not known to be suicidal at the time, nor is there any indication that he was more drunk than the average passenger on the ship.

As of 2017, we know next to nothing about the circumstances of Mr Suikkanen’s disappearance.

2. Niku Patronen

niku patronen

There are few things sadder than the shattered dreams of a young mind. What’s the purpose of dreams if the universe never evens plans to give you a shot at making them come true?

In 2006 Niku Patronen was a 19-year-old young man who had just graduated from a vocational school. In addition to his graduation he had been blessed with good news recently: he had just received information that a ticket to a cruise had become available after another passenger had canceled his trip. That meant he would not have to stay behind – Niku would be able to join his group of friends who had already booked their tickets.

At some point in the evening, the group was joined by two ladies. The group of lads lacked the necessary English skills to make headway in impressing the ladyfolk, but words are rarely needed in these contexts; everybody was there to have a good time, and that was all they needed to knew about each other. 

After his friends deicded it was time to head to the cabins for some shoteye, Niku followed the ladies to their cabin, telling his friends that he wanted to get the women’s email addresses before parting with them for the night. He was caught by the ship’s CCTV system following the women in one of the ship’s long hallways.

And that was it. The last sight of Mr Niku Patronen.

The aforementioned ladies apparently got off in the Stockholm port, leaving the ship and possibly taking some important answers with them; they were never reached for questioning.

The police investigators in Turku, the precinct assigned to investigate the vanishing, have no new substantial leads in the case. 

In an interview with the television show Kadonneet (“The Missing”) Niku’s mother remembered the last words she had said to her son before he had taken off for the cruise: “älä hävitä ittees” – “don’t lose yourself”. 


3. Niko Arkke

Niko was a 24-year-old student of construction when he disappeared mysteriously on the night of 18th October 2003. 

He was last seen in the ships’s night club, accompanied by several girls. He was having a good time dancing and laughing with them.

Then, without a single substantial clue as to why or how, he simply vanished. Nobody saw him anywhere near the ships’s fringes, readying himself for a jump into the icy darkness, nor did anyone hear him fight with another passenger and lose, paying the proce by being thrown overboard by a jealous, bodybuilding alpha male. 

He was just there one second, and gone the next.

The girls he was dancing with were never reached for questioning.


So what exactly happens to these people? 

It’s of course easiest to just say they all suddenly decided to commit suicide. Never mind the fact that not a single one of them had ever previously expressed a single suicidal impulse – they just suddenly “got it into their heads” to do it, perhaps overcome by some sudden surge of cosmic loneliness and purposelessness one can only catch from the ocean air…

Or maybe sometimes the world demands a bit more of an effort from those of us left behind wondering and asking questions. 

For example, who’s to say that just as women are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, men couldn’t occasionally end up experiencing the same fate? Niku and Niko, for example, were both good-looking young men in a vulnerable position: drunk and surrounded by the attention of women, far away from home. But who were these women? Why were they not reached for questioning? Finland is a small country, and information about any out-of-the-ordinary crime or other event will quickly reach most of the population. Same goes for Sweden, the touching point of cruise liners taking off from Finland. Why did they decide not to talk? 

A few years ago a comment such as “I think the governments of the world are conducting mass surveillance” would have elicited a roar of laughter and suggestions to wear a tinfoil hat. If you say that out loud now, most people will just reply with a laconic “oh yeah, that Edward Snowden thing.”

And think about it: how realistic is the explanation that what was going on in the heads of these people when they disappeared was  something like this: 

“Yeah! Ladies, partying, good times, friends, yeah yeah yeah – suicide. Must kill myself.”

One thing is for certain, though: the sea will not tell. 

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