The largest ever ship to be registered in Lithuania and to fly the national flag began plying international waters last week.
The 200 meter-long ferry Lisco Gloria, owned and operated by Lisco Baltic Sevice, will offer three round trips a week between the ice-free seaport of Klaipeda and German port Kiel.
Thanks to the Lisco Gloria's maximum speed of 22 knots, travel time between the two ports will be reduced from 26 hours to roughly 19.
"It's a great honor for us to be sailing this ship under a Lithuanian flag," said Arturas Gedgaudas, Lisco's general director.
Lisco was purchased from the Lithuanian government in 2001 by DFDS Tor Lines, a Danish shipping company, after three-and-a-half years of reportedly agonizing negotiations.
DFDS Tor Lines bought over 80 percent of the company's stock for $47.6 million.
DFDS Tor Lines Vice President Peder Gellert Pedersen told reporters that company policy requires that ships fly the flag of their home port, as well as hire local crews.
"Our ships in Sweden fly the Swedish flag and have Swedish crews," he said.
The Lisco Gloria has created 68 new jobs in Lithuania. Two shifts of 34 sailors operate the ship.
The Lisco Gloria can take 302 passengers per trip (in 77 cabins) and holds 2,493 line-meters of container trucks and automobiles.
"We hope this ship will help attract more visitors to Lithuania and make traveling abroad more comfortable," said Pedersen, adding that the shorter trip time should encourage people to think twice about driving.
Travelers who drive to Germany through Poland often face extended lineups at the Lithuanian-Polish border and then have to brave the dilapidated highway in that country, notorious for the high rate of car accidents.
The Lisco Gloria will see another investment of 6 million litas (1.7 million euros) during the low season this winter. The company is planning to renovate its decks and restaurants and add more cabins.
First Lady Laima Paksiene was on hand to christen the ship, wishing it "good winds" before its voyage.
"This mighty ship stretches a symbolic bridge between ports of East and West," she told a crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers gathered at the Klaipeda International Sea Terminal.
DFDS Tor Lines has been pursuing a strategic expansion into the Baltic Sea market since the late 1990s.
Lisco acquired the Lisco Gloria, its 14th vessel, from an Italian ferry company for just over $40 million. It replaces two smaller ships - the Riga and the Klaipeda - which will now operate in Lubeck and Karlshamn (Sweden).
"We've been waiting since 1998 for a ferry like the Lisco Gloria to replace older ships," said Gedgaudas.
The investment means that DFDS Tor Lines is well ahead of the agreement negotiated with the State Property Fund, which requires it to invest an additional $62 million in the company by 2004.
With Lisco's recent purchase of another ship, the Neringa, the investor has reached this target.
The company acquired LatLines SIA earlier this year.