A vessel bringing Estonian citizens trapped in Europe following the imposition of border controls across the region arrived in Riga late on Thursday. The ship, the Romantika, was specially laid on by Estonian shipping line Tallink and sailed from the North German port of Sassnitz. Tallink is also sending a series of similar collection voyages in the coming days, using its Star ferry.
On docking in Riga, Latvian officials in protective clothing boarding the Romantika to inspect the vehicles of those traveling, who including Latvian and Lithuanian citizens in the same predicament. The arrivals additionally had to sign an affidavit that they would go directly home to Estonia and not take a detour on foot in Riga or elsewhere, BNS reports.
Facilities for coronavirus tests were also available in the Riga harbor area, in orange tents specially set up for the purpose and staffed by volunteers. About a dozen people took tests, according to BNS.
Vehicles and their occupants were then divided into three columns by destination; the Latvian citizens went to their homes, with a Lithuanian column heading south and an Estonian one driving to the Ikla border checkpoint.
Crossing the border into Estonia now requires a two-week quarantine period at home or place of residence, including for citizens.
The Romantika's voyage was precipitated by a deal which failed to materialize earlier in the week; Poland's authorities had promised an escorted column through that country to the Lithuanian border on Monday, since it had imposed border controls on Sunday midnight, 48 hours ahead of the three Baltic States. Around 73 Estonian citizens had spent Monday trapped in their vehicles a mile over the German-Polish border, unable to go forward or backward after Polish authorities blocked their entry. Some indviduals broke down border fences in order to make their way the 400 kilometers to the German port of Travemünde, where they took a boat to Sweden.
Around 470 people and 150 cars where registered for the Romantika trip. The vessel had taken around 35 German citizens wishing to return home on the outbound trip from Riga.
Tallink's second rescue mission has already set sail from Tallinn, to the same German port, Sassnitz. Several more voyages are planned every day through to March 26, these to and from Paldiski, west of Tallinn. The journey takes about 20 hours, it is reported.
Editor: Andrew Whyte