Estonia could buy a fifth vessel in addition to the four ferries of the same design currently using the routes between the mainland and the country's large western islands and put it in operation on the Virtsu-Kuivastu line, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said on Thursday.
"The state could acquire one more ship, a fifth ship, it should be [sailing] between Virtsu and Kuivastu. Renting it every year, like we have been doing, is very expensive and doesn't pay off either in the long-term or short-term perspective," Ratas said at a government press conference.
Ratas said that the topic of the acquisition of a fifth ferry will be put on the table at the discussion of the state budget for next year in September.
The prime minister added that when speaking about Virtsu-Kuivastu, the service connecting the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu with the mainland, one should also not forget the Rohukula-Heltermaa service between the mainland and Hiiumaa. However, Ratas said that adding a third vessel to that service is not a priority.
"We have to look over the winter timetable in the first place, in order for there to be more departures, which I have also asked TS Laevad to assess already this fall," Ratas said, referring to the Tallinna Sadam ferry operating subsidiary TS Laevad.
On Wednesday, ERR News reported that the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll) has analysed the cost of maintaining the ferry connection with Estonia's two largest islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.
The analysis found an increase in volume of passengers and vehicles using the services, under the current, 10-year, contract which began in 2016. However this has cost the state more than expected.
Ferry connections to the two islands have cost the state more and more each year, rising from around €11.40 per vehicle carried in 2007, to €18.30 in 2018, a rise of over 50 percent, the audit office says.
The price per passenger has risen even more, doubling from around €4 to around €8 over the same period. Volumes of vehicles have also risen, by about 60 percent.
Editor: Helen Wright