Statistics: 2020 International seaborne passenger figures down 61 percent

September storm.
September storm. Source: Kalmer Saar/

While shipping freight volumes were substantively unchanged in 2020, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic last year was followed by a 61 percent fall in international passenger ferry and cruise ship routes.

Domestic ferry services also fell on year to 2020, though to a lower extent at 17 percent, BNS reports.

Birgitta Ojamaa, analyst at Statistics Estonia said the international figures in particular were remarkable – with, for instance, just over 1,000 cruise ship passengers arriving in Estonia throughout the whole of the third quarter of 2020 (Q3 2020), itself a period when restrictions and coronavirus rates were milder than both before and after.

A single, large cruise ship is likely to carry several thousand passengers, in the normal run of things.

Travel restrictions and economic contraction would have been resposible for the dramatic fall in passenger numbers – Estonia's nearest maritime neighbor, Finland, closed its borders during the initial spring wave of the virus, a practice which it reprised in Q1 2021.

Estonia to Sweden routes saw slightly over 270,000 travelers by sea, 76 percent fewer than in 2019, Statistics Estonia says.

Overseas maritime arrivals numbered as noted 2.2 million, while the figure for international departures was around the same; routes between Finland and Estonia carried around four million passengers, around half 2019's figure, the agency says.

Domestic numbers fell by considerably less, though Saaremaa being closed to all but residents during the March-May 2020 emergency situation, and lockdown as a whole, contributing to this.

Since the flow of essential supplies had to continue, with vessels and their crews and essential staff passengers exempt from the bulk of the coronavirus travel restrictions, cargo shipping figures remained much the same as in 2019.

International maritime traffic passengers stood at 4.5 million, while passengers on the main domestic routes stood at around half that, at 2.2 million.

Domestic ferry services are often also hampered by non-coronavirus-related factors, such as maintenance issues with vessels, storms and sea ice.

Nonetheless, a total of 15,800 journeys were operated in domestic maritime services, just 880 journeys fewer than the last COVID-19-free year, i.e. 2019.

The number of vehicles carried on domestic routes fell by 8 percent, with cars accounting for a little under three-quarters of the total, and trucks and trailers for most of the remainder.

In international shipping traffic over 1.6 million vehicles were handled at Estonian ports through the year, with cars accounting for 64 percent, and trucks and trailers for 34 percent, of the total number of vehicles served in international shipping traffic.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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