Estonia's largest internal waters vessel, the 35-meter sand barge Koit has been renovated and sent back to work dredging the Gate of Estonia canal, work on which had been postponed for over a decade for lack of suitable equipment.
Koit, at 35 meters in length and 7 in width, is larger than the ferry Koidula that is taking passengers to and from Piirissaar. Piloting the large barge that is getting on in age is quite a challenge for the captain.
"We are used to operating smaller craft on the lake, and it takes some getting used to. Stopping and taking off again is very different from a smaller vessel," junior captain Siim Leenurm said.
A total of seven iron barges with tank engines were built in the Port of Tartu in the 1970s. Koit is the only one still in Estonia.
"Because all of these vessels have historical significance, we cannot just allow them to go to waste. We need to renovate and conserve them," Leenurm said.
The project helps conserve shipping heritage on the one hand, while the barge is also needed. Koit recently got back to work when it left the Port of Laaksaare for the Gates of Estonia fairway that links the larger Lake Peipsi with Lämmijärv.
"It is one of the most important internal waterways canals, linking Peipsi and Lämmijärv. It is the gateway to free movement on Estonian internal waters. If it is closed, vessels would have to pass through Russian territory," said Kaido Vaik who operates a digger at the dredging operation.
The canal was last dredged in 2008. The renovation of Koit allowed the operation to be resumed as Estonia has no other work ships of its kind and no longer manufactures them.
"The Gates of Estonia dredging work has been postponed for a long time. We have lacked a larger vessel for moving sand. There have been times during low water level in fall when larger vessels have been forced to pass through Russia to enter Lämmijärv," Leenurm said.
Moving sand will not be Koit's only task. The operator of the Piirissaar ferry Koidula hopes to use Koit as a replacement should the former need repairs.
Editor: Marcus Turovski