State starts exploring longer-term Ruhnu ferry replacement options

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The Runö is currently out-of-service. Source: ERR

The state is looking at replacing a catamaran ferry which connects the small island of Ruhnu with the Estonian mainland, but which has been prone to technical issues, most recently this week and largely due to its intense schedule.

The procurement process would take three or more years, ERR reports, and will see the vessel, called the Rüno, replaced.

The Rüno has been out-of-service all week, with a stop-gap measure provided via a Transport Agency (Transpordiamet) vessel loaned to Ruhnu authorities at a time when the island's population swells from its off-season figure of around 60, to up to three times that.

Ruhnu lies in the Gulf of Riga and is, as the crow flies, nearer to the Latvian mainland than the Estonian.

AS Kihnu Veeteed, the company which runs the ferry service, says it has not yet determined the cause of the latest fault, though added that it is with one of the vessel's main engines, which will require a replacement.

Ruhnu mayor Andres Nõu says that the issues blight the vessel, which needs to be treated gingerly, every year, adding that this is noone's fault in particular and noting that 15 years ago the island had no regular connection to the mainland and consequently little in the way of a tourism industry, something which it now has.

Kihnu Veeteed board member Andres Laasma says that the problems relate to the vessel's over-use and the fact it is a high-speed piece of equipment.

He said: "The main reason is probably that the travel schedule is very intensive.

"The optimal driving mode requires a lot of load," Laasma added.

Ultimately the decision is down to the state, he added.

The economic affairs ministry's maritime affairs department's undersecretary, Kaupo Läänerand, says that it will be instructing the Transport Agency to conduct a feasibility study, with funding for a replacement to be sought if it turns out the Rüno can no longer be used.

"Assuming this is found, the design, procurement and construction of the new ship must continue. This can take at least three years," Läänerand said.

Martin Lengi, Director of the Transport Agency's mobility planning service, said that a speedy vessel is required due to Ruhnu's distance from the Estonian mainland, but this comes at a cost.

"By prioritizing speed, there is a trade-off with reliability," Lengi said, noting the case is often the same with fast cars.

"The current connection with Runö takes about two hours, but a link via a cargo ship or other ship would likely take seven hours, he went on, adding that constrictions a Ruhnu's small port also dictate what type of vessel can be used.

The connection is not just required for people, but also goods and services, he said, putting regular air travel – also a far more expensive and complex means of transport – off the table.

Andres Nõu, Ruhnu's mayor, said that ideally any potential new procurement will take on more people than the current vessel (the EVA-320, the Transport Agency ship which is standing-in for the Runö, carries 10 – ed.) and has more cargo space availability, as well as sailing regularly. This might mean the island's port needs developing as well, he said.

A separate cargo vessel and a passenger vessel which could carry smaller quantities of cargo as well is one alternative, he said.

Summer flight connections had been on the municipality's agenda, he added, though keeping this going in winter would require political will.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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