TALLINN - Port of Tallinn operators last week managed to squeeze a three-month delay in the fee increase out of the port management and thereby defuse a tense standoff between the two sides.
The port's board agreed to enforce the higher port fees from Jan. 1, 2005, instead of the previously announced Sept. 1 after the Estonian Association of Port Operators voiced serious concern over reasons and terms of the price hike and even threatened litigation.
According to the Port of Tallinn, the compromise decision came as a result of multilateral talks with port operators, during which "all parties' good will and mutual understanding based on common interests" were demonstrated.
The Estonian Port Operators Association hailed the decision to postpone the rise, yet it said it would still demand economic justification for the hike. The association suggested forming a commission of experts from both sides and independent analysts to assess whether the increase of the fees was reasonable and necessary.
"We want to see the port's investments plan and discuss the effect of raising the port duties to the transit system in general," said Ago Tiiman, head of the Estonian Port Operators Association.
A number of port operators criticized the idea of raising the tariffs in the middle of the fiscal year.
Port authorities claimed the price increase would help the port maintain its investment capacity and competitiveness over the mid-term. The most dramatic rise of tariffs - over 50 percent - would affect oil tankers and large ferries.
Mart Tooming, chairman of the board of Port of Tallinn, said the emotional threats from the operators' association, such as taking the port administration to court and giving wide publicity to the issue, had probably been premature.
"Both the port administration and the port operators are sitting on the same branch. No matter who will start sawing it, both would fall," Tooming told The Baltic Times on July 29.
He called the date of implementation of the new prices the most sensitive part of the argument.
"However, as long as we invest the funds we get from the increased fees, both sides will benefit. We are already not cheaper than other ports in the region. We have to compete with better infrastructure and services rather than with prices," stressed Tooming.