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Another ferry line ordered to keep sailing between Helsinki and Tallinn, even with few passengers

Finland is paying companies to maintain unprofitable routes that are deemed essential lifelines for imports and exports.

Kuvassa on Helsingistä lähtenyt Eckerö Linen M/S Finlandia-alus toukokuussa 2020.
The Eckerö car ferry M/S Finlandia near Helsinki in July 2020. Similar arrangements have been made with Tallink and Viking Line. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom) has ordered another ferry company to maintain service between Helsinki and Tallinn, even though there are few passengers these days.

On Tuesday Traficom said it had placed a transport service obligation on Eckerö Line. In effect the state will begin paying the company to keep the unprofitable route between Finland and Estonia open as it is deemed essential for freight deliveries.

€25m earmarked for shipping last summer

In late June, Parliament approved the government’s request for nearly 25 million euros to support the shipping industry. In July, the cabinet issued a decree allowing authorities to impose transport service obligations on routes considered crucial for the national economy.

Most of Finland’s exports and imports are carried by ship.

“The aim is secure freight and passenger traffic that is critical for Finland. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, we must be able to continue nationally-critical cargo traffic, exports and essential worker with as little disruption as possible,” Jarkko Saarimäki, Deputy Director-General for Transport System Services at Traficom, said on Tuesday.

Similar arrangements have earlier been made with Tallink and Viking Line. The shipping firms are reimbursed for their losses in maintaining critical routes.

Freight traffic at near-normal levels

According to Saarimäki, cargo traffic is operating at close to normal levels, but most critical freight and passenger transport is done on passenger ferries. At the moment, it is not financially viable to operate regular cargo routes without passenger traffic.

“These companies would have stopped sailing these routes if we hadn’t purchased this basis level of service from them. This secures the future of these routes with sufficient frequency and capacity in the future as well,” Saarimäki told Yle.

The Estonian capital Tallinn lies about 90km south of Helsinki, a ferry voyage of roughly three hours.

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