Riga port tries to float a deal to Stockholm

  • 2000-02-24
  • Valters Medenis
RIGA - The Riga's passenger port, Rigas PasazieruOstas, has submitted a plan to both the Latvian government and the Riga City Council to revive the Riga-Stockholm ferry service. With no response received by RPO President Zigmars Priedis, it seems the people of Latvia will be the losers.

"The government and the city council have not worked actively enough for this venture to happen," said Priedis.

With the interest shown by Sweden and the possible gains to the Latvian economy, Priedis believes Latvia needs to have operating not just sea freight transport but also a passenger ferry service.

"Our best financially viable option is to get financial and political backing from the Riga City Council or the government to restart the ferry service and restore national pride in our nation's shipping. Every sea city port needs to have public sea transportation, not just sea freight transportation," said Priedis. "If neither the city council nor the government give political and financial backing, the service will not happen."

"We need their support to implement the project and for them to act quickly before it is too late. Time is of the essence, we need to complete the purchase of a ferry and establish the route to Stockholm."

In the early 1990s, there were two ferries on the route, the Iljic and the Rusj. Both ships were detained and arrested in Stockholm for money owed to the Swedish Port Authority. According to Priedis, these two past failures of the Riga-Stockholm ferry service have made the government and the Riga City Council afraid of another international scandal that would embarrass Latvia.

"How I see the situation, the third attempt at the ferry service between Latvia and Sweden should not result in failure," Priedis went on to say. "The best possible option would be to have political backing behind the service so the inception of the service can proceed with no mistakes foreseen due to experience gained from the other two failed ventures."

"Unfortunately the sun is rising higher and higher with each day and spring will soon be upon us. One of the government bodies needs to make a decision quickly. It is imperative that we have professionals, not non-professionals, getting the service running and restoring the national political pride to our country. If the government thinks we have no experience, it then becomes a question of instilling some national pride in ourselves to ensure failure does not occur."

Riga's City Council Mayor Andris Berzins was away on business in Germany and unavailable for comment.

The Latvian Privatization Agency's general director, Janis Naglis, believes that it is up to the Riga City Council to take the initiative to get the Riga-Stockholm ferry into service.

"Personally, I believe it's up to the city council to take the steps to have the ferry service fuctioning. I think it is a disappointing situation that the only effective way to commute between Latvia and Sweden is by air travel," said Naglis.

To have the Riga-Stockholm ferry service running by spring, the ferry Baltic Kristine has to be purchased from the Estonian Shipping Company. The sale price of the Baltic Kristine is $7 million. The purchase has to be completed before the end of this month. Otherwise the ferry will be put back into service operating the Tallin-Stockholm route.

The Riga shipping company Rigas Kugnieciba has performed a technical inspection of the Baltic Kristine and found no problems in declaring the vessel highly seaworthy.

Priedis said that the ferry service is a business opportunity that if not seized, could prove costly. Business plans have been analyzed and passed by overseas shipping companies, with the operator Scandlines telling the RPO that its business plan would bring profits to the Riga-Stockholm ferry service in its first year of operation.

The roundtrip ticket price of $95 would also be affordable, considering the ticket price on the Rusj was $125. With a solid business plan in place and the opportunity for Riga's businesses to provide the sale of their services and products on board the ferry, Priedis thinks it is an economic opportunity that will go beckoning if not acted upon soon.

"There is also the possibility of a private business purchasing the Baltic Kristine. We already have one interested party, but they want political backing from either the city council or a government institution to run the operation." Priedis said. "I will take off my hat and bow if someone from the private sector can resurrect the ferry service."