Pärnu County wants island of Ruhnu back

Ruhnu ferry "Runö" in Pärnu Harbor. (Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)
By Ester Vilgats
5/6/2016 3:21 PM
Category: News

There is interest in Pärnu County in having the tiny island of Ruhnu, located geographically closer in the Gulf of Riga to the Latvian mainland than to its currently administrative Saare County, rejoin the mainland county to which it belonged for decades during the previous century. Such a change could also improve Ruhnu and Kihnu’s connections to the mainland.

As the ferry Kihnu Virve is an ice-class ferry, it should be able to manage travel across the Gulf of Riga throughout the winter, and so air service connecting Kihnu to the mainland is no longer being planned. This past winter was relatively mild, however, and so it remains unknown how the ferry will handle ridged ice, for example.

The arrival of the Kihnu Virve, which travels between the islands of Kihnu and Munalaid, also meant the end of a direct connection between Kihnu and the mainland city of Pärnu. ERR’s radio news reported, however, that the catamaran ferry Runö, which travels between Pärnu and Ruhnu during summer, could help fill that gap.

According to Kihnu Parish Mayor Ingvar Saare, the inhabitants of Ruhnu are clearly in more dire need of an airplane, as the smaller of the two islands is rendered inaccessible by ferry during winter. If anything were to happen to Kihnu Virve, however, the Ruhnu plane could pick up passengers in Kihnu and transport them to Pärnu — but not if that same plane also had to fly between Ruhnu and the Saaremaa capital of Kuressaare.

“That was actually what was done in practice this year — when Kihnu Virve couldn’t travel due to inclement weather and as by chance there were no flights between Ruhnu and Kuressaare, and the plane was making flights between Ruhnu and Pärnu, it was able to pick up more critical passengers from Kihnu as well and transport them [to the mainland],” explained Saare. “Such an opportunity would be feasible if Pärnu were the county seat for Ruhnu residents as well — that would actually help improve transportation options throughout the Gulf of Riga."

According to Ruhnu Parish Mayor Jaan Urvet, the idea of the island transferring administratively from Saare to Pärnu County is yet a rather recent one. There had been some discussion about it, but that was as far as things had gotten.

“Now we were suddenly contacted by the Pärnu County governor, who has invited us to a little consultation on May 16th already,” said Urvet. “As far as our own position is concerned, we have added the topic to the parish council’s May 9 agenda in order to discuss the appeal and perhaps even identify some starting points.”

According to the parish mayor, the parish’s top priority is that the transportation situation would not worsen — that the island would not have to make any concessions as far as maritime traffic and its frequency were concerned. “But we must of course understand Kihnu’s interests as well,” added Urvet.

Another concern was what would happen if air service between Ruhnu and Kuressaare were suspended.

“Some people are very connected to Kuressaare — one thing we must discuss with the community is what kind of relationships they have with their family doctors. On my part, I don’t see that these relationships are any worse in Pärnu — they are perhaps even better,” stated Ruhnu’s parish mayor.

On a final note, Urvet added that when considering tourism, the bulk of the island’s tourists come directly from Pärnu.

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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