Tallinn-Helsinki ferry service celebrates half-century
The Port of Tallinn hosted a party on Tuesday to celebrate the day in 1965 when a ship called Vanemuine restored a ferry service between Estonian and Finnish capitals.
The relaunched service in the middle of the Soviet occupation after a 25-year-long hiatus symbolized a very important step for two Finno-Ugric nations and helped to regain the lost link.
When in 1950s just a couple of hundred Finnish tourists visited Estonia, then after the reopening of ferry route that number increased to almost 15,000 per year.
In today's context, that number may still seem small – with millions of passengers crossing the Gulf of Finland every year – but at the time, those tens of thousands of travelers helped to make Estonia, locked away behind the Iron Curtain, a more open country again.
It was all made possible thanks to former Finnish President Urho Kalevi Kekkonen, who was allowed to visit Estonia in 1964, due to his friendly relationship with the Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Anastas Mikoyan.
When interviewed by Estonian TV (now ERR's ETV), Kekkonen expressed a wish to restore the sea link between two neighbors. He later proposed the same to Brezhnev and Mikoyan and got a green light.
The first ship to carry passengers between Tallinn and Helsinki again on June 7, 1965, was Vanemuine, a 1,000-ton vessel built in Bulgaria a few years earlier. This was soon replaced by a larger craft, Tallinn, which was in service until 1980 when almost a legendary cargo/passenger ferry M/S Georg Ots, named after the most famous Estonian opera singer, took over.
The 12,500-ton Georg Ots sailed between the two capitals until 2000, although newer and larger ships were added after Estonia regained independence in 1991. The ship also gained fame when used to accommodate the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the Reykjavik Summit in 1986 when the US President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev attempted to reach an agreement to cut the number of ballistic missiles.
These days, four shipping companies operate on Tallinn-Helsinki line, serving over 8 million passengers in 2014.