Ticket sales for ferries serving Estonia's two largest islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, have been partly restored after an incident involving one of four vessels which provide the links had put it out of action. The three remaining ferries were still carrying passengers, but this involved arriving and waiting in line, if in a vehicle, rather than pre-booking.
Sirle Arro, spokesperson for TS Laevad, the firm operating the routes, told ERR on Saturday that: "Starting today, we will be selling pre-booked tickets for both routes again. Customers can buy a ticket in advance, and do not have to wait in line at the port."
Following Wednesday's incident, which saw the largest of the Saaremaa ferries, the Tõll, strike the harbor quay at Kuivastu, on Muhu – linked to Saaremaa via a causeway road – damaging both it and the port's vehicle ramp, passengers to both of Estonia's two largest islands have had to board on a first-come, first-serve basis, which for those with cars means waiting in line.
The restored ticketing system will see every other trip open to bookings, alternating with departures which still operate on the first-come, first-serve routine, TS Laevad said.
Sirle Arros aid this situation will remain in place to Monday, when the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Transport Agency (Transpordiamet) will meet with local government representatives to discuss how to progress.
The Tõll is currently being repaired, while her vacancy has been taken by the Tiiu, which normally serves Hiiumaa, in a switch with the Regula, which normally serves Saaremaa.
Since the Tiiu is both larger and far more modern than the half-century-old Regula, the swap has sparked protests from Hiiumaa residents, who say they are being treated as second-class citizens.
In reality, the move was prompted by commercial decisions; Saaremaa has the larger population and its connection includes that to the adjacent island of Muhu – where the ferry in fact docks – and the larger number of tourists and visitors.
Extra plane connections have also been laid on to both islands, while authorities have urged travelers to take a bus, or go on foot, to avoid waiting in line.
Buses will get priority in any case, and additional services have been laid on with these too.
The Tõll's coming to grief at Kuivastu caused damage to a vehicle on board which belonged to none other than President Kersti Kaljulaid. The car was not an official one, and the head of state was not on an official visit to the island, it is reported. The Police and Border Guard Board says TS Laevad must foot the bill for repairs.
The incident itself has been blamed on a non-specific technical error, rather than human error or some other factor. Security footage of the collision shows the vessel hitting the quay at four knots, enough to bend the land-based vehicle ramp out of shape, rendering it useless.
Noone was hurt in the incident.
TS Lavad CEO Indrek Randveer told ERR Saturday that utilizing the Tiiu for the replacement service violates no agreement the company, which is a subsidiary of the part-state-owned Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadam), has.
Editor: Andrew Whyte