TALLINN - Prime Minister Juhan Parts said on Thursday that he wouldn't exclude the possibility that Economy and Communications Minister Meelis Atonen would have to resign if the ferry link with the country's large western islands is disrupted.
"We'll see," Parts said when asked his trust in the minister would suffer if the ferry link was discontinued after Oct. 1, when the current agreement with the present operator expires.
"Without a doubt the economy minister's plans were very ambitious, but today's reality is quite different," the prime minister said.
Atonen said earlier this year that the ferry link could be maintained without state subsidies, and indeed no money has been earmarked for subsidies in the draft 2005 budget.
Last year the state paid the ferry operator Saaremaa Laevakompanii (Saaremaa Shipping Company) 87 million kroons (5.6 million euros) for running the ferries between the mainland and the islands and between the islands themselves.Subsidies for the first nine months of this year amounted to some 63 million kroons.
The prime minister said that a decision on allocating funds for the ferries couldn't be made until the matter was discussed in depth. The Port of Tallinn's supervisory council on Monday allowed the port's board to continue preparations to set up a joint venture with SLK to operate the ferry link.