Visitors to Saaremaa and Muhumaa were left waiting in long queues to get back to the mainland after one of the ships servicing the route suffered a technical fault.
Many had to wait for up to 5-6 hours, the ferry operator reported. It still managed to ferry 2,813 vehicles across the Suur Väin Strait in one day, just 70 short of this year's record.
However, the weekend's long queues signal the trouble ahead.
Operator Saaremaa Laevakompanii, which recently lost the tender to continue as the country's domestic ferry route operator in October 2016, this month replaced its large ferries Muhumaa and Saaremaa, which had serviced the route between Muhu island and the mainland for the past five years, with much older and smaller Hiiumaa and Ionas, meaning the company can now ferry across 35 cars per hour less than before.
With three ferries in service the company can for now cater for 2,500 cars per day without delays. However, a number greater than this or any problems with the ships or equipment means hours of delays for customers.
Locals, however, are even more concerned about next summer. Whereas at peak times the route has hitherto been serviced by three ships – two of them large – only two will be stay in operation in 2016. Regula, which replaced the poorly Ionas this weekend, and St. Ola will be moved to Heltermaa-Rohuküla line between Hiiumaa and the mainland. That makes any replacements, should anything happen with the ferries again, almost impossible.
Saare County Governor Kaido Kaasik told Ärileht they are working to bring in a third ship, but the ferry service is controlled by the Ministry of Economy and Communication, and there is only so much the county can do.
Yet it is the county that will have to deal with the blow dealt by the long queues to its tourism sector and economy.
Editor: M. Oll