Off the wire

  • 2001-03-08
RIGA, SAAREMAA CONNECTED: Saaremaa Jetline, a Danish-owned company in Latvia, will bring a fast boat to sail between Riga and the port of Roomassaare on Estonia's largest island, Saaremaa, this summer. The new boat line to be opened on May 15 is expected to carry up to 40,000 passengers during the season that lasts until Aug. 31, but probably later if weather permits and demand for the service continues, the daily Postimees reported March 2. Saaremaa Jetline is owned by the Danish shipper Foilline, which will rent a 40-meter catamaran named the Saaremaa Express for the Riga-Roomassaare operation. The ship's capacity is for 250 passengers and a trip from the Latvian capital to Saaremaa will take two-and-a-half hours.

PORT TO REMAIN STATE-OWNED: The Estonian Transport and Communications Ministry has suggested that the government keep the Port of Tallinn company because of the large revenue the state earns from its operations as owner. In a policy paper setting out its vision of the future of business corporations in the Transport Ministry, the ministry said that, given the present tax and dividend policy, a sell-off of the port company is not advisable. The business plan of the Port of Tallinn states that the company will pay all 1.33 billion kroons ($78.24 million) in dividends to the state for the years 2001-2005. The Estonian government said in its latest economic policy memorandum to the International Monetary Fund that it could sell 30 percent of the Port of Tallinn to private investors.

INFECTED-MEAT INCINERATOR: Latvia will build an incinerator to burn cattle meat infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or the so-called mad-cow disease, an official from the Agriculture Ministry said. State secretary Laimdota Straujuma told reporters Feb. 28 that the incinerator project would cost about 10 million lats ($16.13 million) and take two years to complete. The incinerator is needed in part due to the spread of BSE in Europe and the possibility that the disease might be found also in Latvian cattle. The project, developed in cooperation with Danish experts, has been sent to Denmark for final approval and will be returned to Latvia soon. Straujuma said that three possible locations for the incinerator in Latvia had been selected, but that experts would have their say before the final choice is made. She said that a state guarantee would be required to implement the project. So far no BSE has been found in cattle in Latvia. The Latvian National Veterinary Service has imposed a ban on the import of animals from countries affected by BSE.

SNAIL MAIL AVOIDS FRANKFURT: The Estonian post office, Eesti Post, is trying bypass the Frankfurt Airport as mail is often plundered there. "Frankfurt is generally known throughout the world for its poor work," Eesti Post Deputy Director Maire Lodi said March 1. "But we cannot take responsibility for mail arriving in Estonia via Frankfurt. Also the Latvian and Lithuanian postal services have had problems with Frankfurt." Eesti Post has recently had problems also with the United States and Great Britain. Last year, 79 registered letters mailed from Estonia were lost in foreign countries, of these 18 in Great Britain, 15 in Russia and 9 in Germany. Eesti Post itself lost two registered letters to addresses in other countries last year.

GOOD BYE, UNIBANKA: The Riga Stock Exchange board decided March 1 that listing of the shares of the second largest bank in Latvia, Unibanka, on the stock exchange would be stopped March 13. Unibanka's board resolved to delist the bank's shares from the exchange at the request by its largest shareholder, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken. As a result of the mandatory buy-out offer, the SEB group acquired 98.2 percent of shares in Latvijas Unibanka and it became impossible to comply with the stock exchange's regulations requiring that at least 25 percent of the company's shares must be traded publicly. Latvijas Unibanka's shares are quoted on the official list of the Riga Stock Exchange. Listing of the bank's shares began on Jan. 16, 1996.

TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO: Two of the three potential bidders for the privatization of the Latvian Shipping Company, included by the government on the list of its privatization bidders, have signed under the general confidentiality agreement within the stated term, according to Latvian Privatization Agency Director Janis Naglis. The two companies have also transferred the $5,000 participation fee into the agency's account to get the shipping company's privatization regulations information memorandum. The Latvian government Feb. 13 approved the list of the privatization bidders, which included three companies. The names of the bidders are not being revealed. The auction of 68 percent of the Latvian Shipping Company's share capital or 136 million shares could take place as early as May 11 if the privatization process proceeds as planned.

JOBLESS RATE HITS RECORD: Lithuania's unemployment rate edged up 0.1 points and reached a new record high of 13.2 percent in February, the country's Labor Bureau announced on March 2. This is the highest unemployment rate in Lithuania ever. The jobless rate stood at 11.2 percent a year ago and increased by 0.4 percent over the month. As of March 1, 2001, the number of officially registered unemployed amounted to 237,300, some 2,130 more than a month ago. Men and women accounted for 55.2 percent and 44.8 percent of all the unemployed respectively. The unemployment level in Vilnius stands at 9.2 percent.

RIMI MAKES A MIL: RIMI Baltija, owners of the RIMI supermarket chain, earned 1 million lats ($1.62 million) in net profit in 2000 on a turnover of 25.58 million lats. Both the company's profit and turnover increased last year over 1999, when the company earned 540,000 lats on a net turnover of 22.27 million lats. The company's report for 2000 shows RIMI Baltija's consolidated assets on Dec. 31, 2000 were 8.29 million lats. Norwegian-owned RIMI Baltija operates a chain of over 20 supermarkets and grocery stores in Latvia.