TALLINN - The Hansatee Group, which runs the popular Tallink ferry line to Helsinki, signed a contract with the Finnish shipbuilder Aker Finnyards on Aug. 30 to build the largest ship that has ever sailed under the Estonian flag.
The 2.5 billion kroon ($144 million) investment, made possible through a loan from the German Hamburg Landesbank, is one of the largest in Estonia ever, making NRG's $67 million purchase of a 49 percent stake in the Narva power plants look like play money.
The new ship will make its debut in May 2002. At 190 meters long, 29 meters wide, and weighing 40,000 tons, the new ferry will be able to carry 2,500 passengers.
Already there are a wealth of ferry companies servicing the Tallinn-Helsinki route, yet Hansatee claims the ship's capacity will not surpass the demand.
"We are not thinking we should have a bigger share of the market," said Peeter Riiba, Hansatee's public relations officer.
By the year's end, the company announced it will cease operating the car and passenger ferry Georg Ots. In two years, it may also halt Meloodia, currently its largest boat carrying 1,500 passengers, as the new ship will replace it. "If business goes well, we hope we can keep using Meloodia," Riiba said.
Riiba said the investment is necessary to keep up with the competition and to make use of the improved technology now available. "Our other big ships were built in the '90s. The building possibilities have changed so much in 10 years. We are going to use everything we can of this century," he said.
Riiba refuted charges of other ferry lines, such as Estline in an interview with Eesti Paevaleht, which have claimed the ferry is too extravagant for Estonia's needs. He said the builders and the bank have accepted their plans, which are based purely on numbers.
The Tallinn-Helsinki route contributed about 77 percent of the port of Tallinn's overall traffic last year. The number of passengers has been constantly increasing, according to the port's data.
In 1999, the passenger terminals of the port serviced 5.97 million people, which was 9.7 percent more than in 1998. The share of the Tallinn-Stockholm route in the total passenger traffic was just 7 percent. Altogether, 5,956 passenger vessel calls were registered.