The temporary loss of ferry which plies its trade between the island of Saaremaa and the mainland is to be covered by its equivalent on the Hiiumaa route. The out-of-service vessel, the Tõll, collided with a pier Wednesday, causing minor damage. The swap has met with push-back from Hiiumaa residents, whose replacement ferry is smaller in capacity.
The new schedule is set only for the weekend, with further announcements to follow on services beyond that. Damage to the Tõll is only minor.
Four ferries down to three
Island ferry operator TS Laevad runs four vessels, in the normal run of things. Three of them, the Tõll, the Regula and the Piret serve Saaremaa, which has the larger population and volume of travelers, while the fourth, the Tiiu, serves Hiiumaa.
Now that the Tõll is out-of-action, the Regula will serve Hiiumaa and so will be switched with the Tiiu, the larger of the two, while the Piret will remain on the Saaremaa route, making it two ferries (the Tiiu and the Piret) to one (the Regula), in favor of Saaremaa.
Additional flights to both islands are also being laid on temporarily, while travelers are urged to use a bus or go on foot rather than take their vehicle on the ferry, since the replacement services are operating on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ferry line CEO: Passenger volume made swap inevitable
Indrek Randveer, CEO of TS Laevad, the ferry line which serves Estonia's principal islands, said that: "Looking at the tickets pre-purchased for the coming weekend, this swap was unavoidable.
"If we left the Regula to operate the Saaremaa route for the weekend, waiting times for passengers with vehicles would become very long," he added.
Ferries to Saaremaa dock at Kuivastu, on the adjacent island of Muhu, which is linked to Saaremaa via causeway road. The line operates between Kuivastu and Virtsu, on the mainland.
The Hiiumaa ferry sails from Rohuküla (on the mainland) to Heltermaa.
Passengers encouraged to take bus rather than own vehicle
Indrek Randveer said that the swap reflects the far larger volume of traffic traveling to Saaremaa.
"Summer statistics show that even with all vessels in operation, 11 times more vehicles are left on the shore on the Saaremaa route compared with the Hiiumaa route," Randveer continued, quoted by BNS.
The Transport Agency (Transpordiamet) recommends that, where possible, people use public transport or air transport to get to the islands.
There are still some seats available on buses, the authority says, while bus lines are prepared to put extra buses on the routes serving the islands where needed. Buses will also have priority in boarding ferries, BNS reports.
Tõll came to grief on Wednesday
On Wednesday, the Tõll struck the pier at Kuivastu harbor on Muhu, at a speed of around four knots, damaging the dock's vehicle ramp and also the ferry's own ramp. A technical fault has been blamed. Noone was injured in the collision.
The transport authority has ordered additional departures from air carriers on the Saaremaa and Hiiumaa routes for the weekend, now that one of the four large ferries plying the island routes is temporarily out of service and is urging people to go to the islands by plane or by bus.
The Tõll is a car ferry, and one vehicle on board – as it turned out, President Kersti Kaljulaid's – was damaged as a result of the prang, adding to the media drama following the incident.
President Kaljulaid was on board the Tõll when collision happened
The president had been making a non-official visit to the island, and, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) says, TS Laevad are liable for repair to the damage, to the hood and windshield, caused.
PPA spokesperson Enriko Laanemäe said that "This is not a normal car insurance case, hence why we have approached TS Laevad to get compensation for the damage."
The car in question was not the president's official vehicle, BNS reports, meaning that a replacement is not needed. The president was on board the Tõll when the incident occurred.
Hiiumaa replacement ferry smaller than usual vessel
Meanwhile, Indrek Randveer said that two of the Tõll's three sister ships, the Tiiu and the Regula, will start their new schedules – the first replacing the Tõll between Muhu/Saaremaa and the mainland, the second moving from its Saaremaa route to serve Hiiumaa – starts Saturday, meaning the Hiiumaa route will be served by a vessel with a smaller capacity than is normally the case.
Hiiumaa residents or those with an interest in regular transport links with the island have already kicked up a protest about the swap; Randveer said that he understands their concerns, adding TS Laevad will do all in its power to maintain service levels for customers on all routes.
The Regula, and the fourth of the island ferries, the Piret, will serve the mainland-Muhu route on a more flexible, first-come-first-served basis in the meantime, and e-tickets are not available, nor do pre-purchased e-tickets carry any special status, BNS reports.
Additional flights laid on Friday to Sunday
Travel on foot is also preferable, TS Laevad adds, and customers so doing do not need to wait in line.
From Friday also, an additional flight from Tallinn to Kuressaare will be laid on, leaving the capital at 2.25 p.m. and making the return journey from Saaremaa at 5.35 p.m.
The timetable for the additional service on Saturday, July 24, is 5.50 p.m. leaving Tallinn, flying back from Kuressaare at 7 p.m.
Sunday's respective times are 4.10 p.m. and 5.20 p.m. The flights are supplementary to existing links.
An additional Hiiumaa flight also operated Friday morning.
TS Laevad communicating with Transport Agency, ministry, on future situation
The Regula will serve the Hiiumaa route from July 24 to 26 inclusive, instead of working its normal route between Saaremaa and the mainland.
TS Laevad says it will be liaising with the Transport Agency and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications on services beyond July 26.
TS Laevad is a subsidiary of the part-state-owned Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadama).
With the exception of the Regula, which was laid down in Germany 50 years ago, the TS Laevad ferries only a few years old, while the Tõll was converted to a hybrid diesel-electric vessel in 2019.
The small island of Ruhnu is served by another, smaller catamaran ferry, the Runö. She, too, is out-of-action at present.
Editor: Andrew Whyte