RIGA - Transport Minister Ainars Slesers reiterated last week that ferry services to Riga Port should be diversified despite complaints from city officials.
"I have contacted all possible companies, and I think Tallink will not be the only one to come forth because at least one more company has implied that it may be interested," he told the Baltic News Service, adding that he was not satisfied with the existing situation. "My position as regards passenger service at Riga Port is the same as for Riga Airport 's competition. The better the situation, the bigger the benefit to passengers and the state," he said.
Rigas Juras Linija (Riga Sea Line), which is owned by Riga Free Port and the Riga City Council, is currently the only operator of the lucrative Riga-Stockholm route. Therefore, officials from both sides strongly criticized Slesers' initiative, saying that the port and the city had invested a great deal of funds and that inviting other companies to work the route would amount to a subsidy.
But Slesers is not deterred. "When big ferries run between Riga and Stockholm on a daily basis, fourth-fifths of travelers will be Scandinavians, considering their buying ability and traditions. Let them come to Latvia, let them spend money here," said the minister, who is a member of Latvia's First Party.
He added that Scandinavian passengers would use only large, modern ferries unlike those used by Riga Sea Line. "So this business needs to be changed. I have nothing against [Riga Sea Line] 's let them operate. But I strongly object to [Riga Sea Line] and its small ferry monopolizing the Riga-Stockholm line."
Slesers, who was instrumental in attracting budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet to Riga International Airport last year, suggested that new ferry lines could be launched not only from Latvia to Sweden but also to Germany.
At present, Riga Sea Line has the Baltic Kristina ferry, which was built in 1973, sailing to the Swedish capital. The ferry operator last year handled 78,292 passengers on the route, up 8 percent from 2003.