Thursday's reopening of Tallinn-Helsinki ferries sees plenty of interest

Tallink ferry.
Tallink ferry. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Ferry services between the Estonian and Finnish capitals restarted on Thursday following an easing of restrictions placed by both countries' governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

All three major carriers, Tallink, Viking Line and Eckerö, are operating departures. Travel to Finland is only permissible for work purposes, as well as for "unavoidable reasons," though the restrictions in the opposite direction are slightly milder, as Finns studying in Estonia, among other societal groups, will reportedly be able to enter the country.

Tallink said uptake had been quite substantial.

"There will have been almost 3,000 passengers on Tallink's seven departures on Thursday, and these passengers will be more or less divided equally between Estonia and Finland," Piret Mürk-Dubout, Tallink board member, told ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Thursday.

Of boots on the ground, or on deck, ERR journalist Rain Kooli said that he traveled from Tallinn to Helsinki on Thursday, but noticed more passengers in the Finnish capital wanting to make the return trip.

"At four thirty in the afternoon, there were a lot of private vehicles waiting for the ship in Helsinki harbor. This was a sign that, somewhere behind the dam, there was a pressing need to get to Estonia. There have been thousands of people from Estonia, working [in Finland], who have not been able to return to their families due to the ship traffic disruption," Kooli said.

When the Finnish government imposed its restrictions in April and after it had become clear that no exception for the tens of thousands of Estonians who work in Finland, the latter had to make the choice whether to stay in their workplace or with their family, friends and compatriots.

One concrete example was Tiina Maripuu, who lives in Pärnu but works as a teacher in Vantaa, just north of Helsinki proper.

Maripuu said she stayed in Estonia through the height of the emergency period, and only got to appear before her class face-to-face on Thursday, for the first time in a long time.

"I actually had to decide on March 18-19 whether I would be staying in Finland or returning to Estonia, given the risk that I would have to quarantine if I returned to Finland," Maripuu told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

"But since I had to choose between a one-room, pigeon-sized apartment in Finland or my family in Pärnu, from the point of view of my mental well-being, I made the right decision," she went on.

Tallink's Piret Mürk-Dubout added that there were plenty of Estonians wanting to make the return journey too.

"We have also received feedback from customers to the effect that there are a lot of people who had stayed in Finland since before April 11 and would now like to come back to their homes and families," she said.

Travel processing on arrival lengthier than pre-pandemic

Embarkation and disembarkation at both ports is likely to take longer than had been the case before the restrictions came in, however. Checks may include reasons for travel, i.e. proof of employment, as well as the normal document checks.

Finnish border guards are also on-site in Tallinn, where they can advise passengers on the prerequisites for entry to Finland ahead of traveling.

"We are already reviewing everything here, so that the documents are in order, to avoid a situation where a person arrives in Finland and then is sent back due to a lack of documentation or some other problem," Finnish border guard Jani Tiihonen told ETV.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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