TS Laevad, the subsidiary of the Estonian state-owned Port of Tallinn which handles the operation of subsidized ferry services between the Estonian mainland and its Western islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, hopes to sign a charter contract with a sixth vessel in the next few weeks.
The new vessel would replace the Regula as the company's backup vessel as the latter operates the Saaremaa route during the summer season.
"According to an agreement signed with the state, we must have a spare vessel, and I believe that there will be more information regarding that next week or the week after that," Port of Tallinn spokesperson Sirle Arro told BNS on Friday. "Negotiations are in the final stage, but a contract has yet to be signed."
Currently, the company has five ferries, one of which acts as a spare vessel. This summer, the fifth ferry is to also operate the popular Saaremaa route. As the contract the company has concluded with the state stipulates that the company must have a backup vessel as well, the company plans on renting a sixth ferry for the summer.
The government allocated millions of euros in the 2018 state budget for the renting of a sixth vessel, as the state this year will pay approximately €21 million, up from last year's €17.3 million, on maintaining a ferry connection with the large islands.
With the need to ensure sufficient ferry service on the Virtsu-Kuivastu route in the event of a significant increase in demand, an additional vessel is needed first and foremost during the summer period, when the number of passengers is to increase significantly. In addition to the existence of a back-up vessel, the short-term chartering of an additional ship will bring with it the need for an increase in support, it is said the letter of explanation for the 2018 state budget submitted by the Ministry of Finance .
"Currently it is not yet known to us how much of the allocated €4 million will go toward the additional vessel; this is for the customer, or the state, to decide," TS Laevad CEO Jaak Kaabel told BNS last year. "TS Laevad has currently concluded no agreements with the customer, which on one hand is the result of the ongoing demand analysis and the other hand of what kind of vessels are currently available on the market. In conjunction with the demand analysis, we are also in contact with various ship-owners. We are not focused on any single ship at the moment; everything depends on the price, the volume of additional services to be ordered, the possible rental period and the impact of the aforementioned factors on one another. If the volume of the service increases, then it must be accompanied by an increase in subsidization."
According to Kaabel, the number of passengers traveling on the route is increasing steadily, and in the long run, the company would need an additional ship on the route every year. In the company's opinion, it is not reasonable to rent a ferry each time the company needs an additional one, and so it would like to permanently own a sixth vessel as of next year, it was said in January.
"In reality, the ideal solution would be a longer term solution — that the vessel is here permanently and is used when needed," Kaabel said. "Starting to look for a new ship each year and for each summer is not the best solution in the long run."
TS Laevad currently owns the ferries Piret and Tõll, which operate on the Virtsu-Kuivastu route that connects the mainland to Saaremaa via the island of Muhu, the Tiiu and Leiger, which operate on the Rohuküla-Heltermaa route conncting to the island of Hiiumaa, as well as the Regula, its reserve vessel.
Editor: Aili Vahtla