On June 17, 1990, a 10,000-ton ship called Nord Estonia re-established the regular ferry service between Estonia and Sweden, after a pause of 50 years, caused by the Soviet occupation. The event was symbolic for Estonians, as the “white ship” to carry passengers across the Baltic Sea to a country on the other side of 'Iron Curtain' represented newly found freedom again.
The ferry service was relaunched by Hans Laidwa, an Estonian refugee whose family fled to Sweden before the Red Army overran their homeland. “The re-establishment of the Tallinn-Stockholm line 25 years ago was of significant importance for both, Estonians and Swedes,“ Laidwa said at the event organized by Port of Tallinn.
In summer of 1990, Estonia was still officially part of the Soviet Union, although the national tricolor had been flying on Toompea for over a year, and setting up international connections was not as straightforward, as it is nowadays. But where there's a will there's a way. “Despite all the difficulties that were connected to the bureaucracy of the time and rules regulating the communication with the outside world, we together with Estonian partners were able to establish a new shipping line within 1.5 years,” Laidwa remembered. Among others, the then leader of the Swedish Moderate Party Carl Bildt, who later became the Swedish prime minister, helped with contacts.
Laidwa recalled how the business had to start with non-existing infrastructure – a far cry from today's developed and busy Tallinn Port. “With many things we had to start from zero – build terminals to Tallinn and Stockholm, get the ship and negotiate with the Soviet officials until they agreed to allow Swedes to visit Tallinn visa-free, which at the time seemed almost as an unbelievable breakthrough.”
Ain Kaljurand, Port of Tallinn's Chairman, echoed Laidwa's words in emphasizing the symbolic meaning of Tallinn-Stockholm route. “The establishment of the Stockholm line carried on a spirit of the entrepreneurial mind of Estonian seamen and maritime people, and their perseverance of finding possibilities despite the difficulties.”
Sadly, there is also one unfortunate event associated with Tallinn-Stockholm line, when MS Estonia, a much larger successor of Nord Estonia, sank in 1994 while en-route to Swedish capital on a stormy September night. It is the deadliest shipwreck disaster to have occurred in the Baltic Sea in peacetime, costing 852 lives.
However, the ferry service recovered quickly and by today, a total of 13 million people have traveled on the sea lane between Stockholm and Tallinn. The line that originally started out with one ferry has now two Tallink ferries sailing every day, with daily departures from both capitals.
Editor: S. Tambur