The disruption of ferry service connecting the tiny, remote island of Ruhnu with the Estonian mainland is causing problems for the island's business-owners, residents and tourists alike. Minister of Public Administration Janek Mäggi (Centre), however, called such connection issues "inevitable."
According to Ruhnu business-owner Ruth Keskpaik, tourists are the primary livelihood of both accommodation as well as dining establishments.
"[The Runö being out of service] is actually a really, really big blow," Keskpaik told ERR.
According to her, ferry tickets for the summer months go on sale in March and are sold out within a matter of days, meaning that tourists have accommodations booked since spring already.
The municipality is trying to ensure passage for tourist groups to the extent possible, but Keskpaik is worried about tourists who have made their own, independent travel plans and who must now also reach the island via Saaremaa.
In addition, Ruhnu dining establishments also have requirements for the transport of foodstuffs, and the lack of a direct connection to Pärnu on the mainland is making it difficult to fulfil them.
The substitute ferry Amalie is serving Ruhnu via the larger island of Saaremaa. Ruhnu Municipality announced on its Facebook page that it will reserve ten spots on the 40-passenger ferry for local residents per departure. Also being considered at the moment is a temporary direct air connection with Pärnu.
The Runö, which serves the island of Ruhnu via Pärnu, broke down just ahead of the Midsummer holidays. Repairs are expected to take up to three weeks.
Public Administration Minister: Issues with connections 'inevitable'
Speaking in a longer interview on ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday night, Minister of Public Administration Janek Mäggi (Centre) said that in some respects, extraordinary circumstances affecting connections with Ruhnu are inevitable.
"Ruhnu Island has always been an extreme place to live and visit," said the minister. "When the Republic of Estonia had long since been proclaimed, Ruhnu islanders only found out this had happened long after the sea ice had melted, in May. So in some ways, this is a very special place in Estonia. It's 96 kilometres from Pärnu, and 70 from Kuressaare. This is in some respects inevitable."
Mäggi was more optimistic than ferry operator Kihnu Veeteed director Andres Laasma, however, believing that the Runö will be back in service in two weeks already, not three. "A new main engine has been ordered, which will arrive in Estonia in ten days and take two days to install, and I believe that the Runö will be back in service in two weeks," he said.
Regarding the possibility of temporarily re-establishing an air connection with Pärnu in the meantime, the minister explained that while they have the plane for it, it would take three weeks to file the necessary paperwork and get everything straightened out before they could start flying, by which time the ferry is epxected to be back in service anyway.
Asked whether Plan B for the island should perhaps be thought out in advance, rather than only once an issue has arisen, Mäggi explained that this would be exceptionally expensive.
"A great many different things happen in Estonia as well," he said. "Forests burn... not everything can be foreseen, and not everything can be guaranteed either. This is exceptionally expensive."
Mäggi noted that ferry service to Ruhnu costs €530,000 per year, while flights to the island, which operate from 1 November through 30 april, cost another €420,000. "That is a total of €1 million, which is three times more in subsidies than Ruhnu Municipality's own budget," he highlighted. "So a great deal of money is contributed to ensure that this connection exists, but in order to significantly improve it... that would again require significant additional resources."
Editor: Aili Vahtla