Fourth attempt at Riga-Stockholm ferry takes shape

  • 2002-01-24
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Where others have failed, those establishing a soon-to-be-registered ferry company, Riga Maritime Lines, say they will be able to run a profitable passenger ferry route between Riga and Stockholm.

While the company will predominantly be Latvian owned, a company from the Moldavia region of north eastern Romania is also interested in joining, said Miks Ekbaums, general director of Riga's Shipping Company, one of the prospective shareholders.

"Our idea is to start running the ferry before the Ice Hockey World Championship in Sweden this spring," Ekbaums told The Baltic Times.

Riga City Council may pay 312,000 lats ($495,200) for a 26 percent stake in the company - large enough to give it veto rights on the board, Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars told the Baltic News Service.

The City Council could make a decision on the purchase as soon as Feb. 5, he added.

"This is the first professional business plan for renewing ferry traffic between Riga and Stockholm since the service provided by the Mikhail Sholokhov," Bojars said.

Riga Maritime Lines, which will have a registered capital of $2 million, had its eyes on the aging Georg Otts, a ferry which plied the Gulf of Finland. But the Otts was purchased this week by a Norwegian company.

On hearing the news Bojars nevertheless insisted another ferry could be bought by week's end.

Ekbaums said negotiations were already under way with two other shipping companies although he declined to give details.

Swedish cargo companies have said they would be interested in using a ferry between Riga and Stockholm but have not come up with any proposals to invest in the line, said Ekbaums.

Unlike the previous three ships to serve the Riga-Stockholm route, the company intends its ship to fly under the Latvian flag.

Latvian Monoline was the last company to attempt to provide a Riga-Stockholm service, but it went belly up last year after its ship, the Mikhail Sholokhov, had provided service for six months.

The Sholokhov's predecessors, the Ilyich and the Rusj were both impounded in Stockholm in the 1990s after failing to pay their port fees. Rumors abounded at the time that the ships' crews had gone unpaid.

But such precedents do not deter Ekbaums.

"The ferries were all badly organized. We have more experience now. We'll use the know-how of companies with more experience so we won't repeat the same mistakes," he said.

Leonids Loginovs, chief executive of Riga Port Authority, was keen to allay the fears of potential Swedish investors, whose lack of interest so far has been attributed by municipal officials in Stockholm to a fear of chaotic business practices at the port.

"We haven't had any negotiations with Riga Shipping Company, but they are welcome," Loginovs said. "Any company and any vessel is welcome to operate in Riga port.

"Having the ferry up and running is just as important for Riga as it is for Stockholm. We are very interested in having this ferry line."

Aira Andriksone, head of tourism at the Ministry of Environment and Regional Development, said that while such a ferry line was desirable the likelihood of it boosting tourist numbers was difficult to judge.

"The number of Swedish tourists on the earlier ferries was limited so it's difficult to say if the amount of tourists from Sweden declined during the time when the ferry was down, and we don't yet have statistical figures from last year," she said.