Unusually low water levels affecting island businesses

The Harilaid is too small to keep up the regular flow of goods and passengers between the island of Hiiumaa and the mainland. (Sander Ilvest/Postimees/Scanpix)
10/20/2016 12:42 PM
Category: Business

Unusually low water levels have hampered ferry traffic between the mainland and Estonia’s large islands for weeks. Businesses in Hiiumaa have now expressed worry that the continuing insecurity about connections to the mainland will lastingly damage the island’s economy.

If the water level drops more than 60 cm below the norm, the larger ferries St. Ola and Regula cannot move. The Harilaid, the ferry that replaces them in such cases, is much smaller, and can’t guarantee the same exchange of goods and passengers between the island and the mainland.

With the irregular schedule, and massively reduced capacity, businesses on the island of Hiiumaa couldn’t be sure that deliveries would arrive or could be made on time, ERR reported on Wednesday. Delayed and cancelled shipments also affected companies’ work schedules.

“The plastic industry can’t get its output ready in time, can’t get raw materials here, or can’t ship out its products. The same applies for the food industry if they can’t move perishable goods quickly enough,” Tanel Malk of Hiiumaa’s trade association said. Shipments were near impossible, and impossible to predict, he added.

The opinion on the island is that TS Laevad, the subsidiary of state-owned Port of Tallinn that operates the ferry connections, should have rented a second replacement ferry, the Kõrgelaid, which is currently moored in Rohuküla. This would at least temporarily solve some of the island’s problems.

TS Laevad confirmed on Wednesday that it wasn’t planning to rent the second ferry. “We are rather trying to be very operative in terms of communication and additional trips,” CEO of TS Laevad Kaido Padar said, adding that if necessary the Harilaid would continue trips until well into the night.

The new ferries the company is still waiting for, and the delayed delivery of which has put the region through a lot of trouble this year still have a draft of four meters, which is practically the same as that of St. Ola and Regula. This means that in case of low water levels, they would not solve the problem.

According to TS Laevad’s Kaido Padar, analysis is necessary how these problems could be avoided in the future. The current low water levels are extraordinary, as port company Sarte Liinid confirmed. Levels this low hadn’t been seen in ten to twenty years, the company said.

According to the Maritime Administration, dredging the navigable channel between Rohuküla and Heltermaa would mean a lot of work and require the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications to allocate additional money.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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