19 April 2020

Ferries in the time of corona

The COVIC-19 pandemic has upset many things – but not my work, which is the reason for the recent lack of updates. Now that I finally had the time to write something for here and take a look at photos taken during the last year or so, I thought we'd take a quick roundup of what is and isn't running during the pandemic in my home region, as well as some of the oddities caused by it.

An unusual (until a month ago, anyway) pair in Helsinki's Länsisatama: the Megastar, departing for Tallinn according to normal schedule, passes the Mariella laid up at the Hernesaari cruise quay. Photogrpahed 4 April 2020.

Currently, no services to and from Finland carry passengers, with the exception of freight drivers and other essential movement. Several passenger-oriented services in the Northern Baltic have been completely discotinued, while other remain operational – some with a subsidy from the Finnish state.

International (ex-passenger) services operated
  • Vaasa–Umeå: Wasa Express (Wasaline), with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Naantali–Kapellskär: Finnfellow and Finnswan (Finnlines) 
  • Turku–Stockholm: Amorella and Viking Grace (Viking Line), Baltic Princess and Galaxy (Silja Line), all with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Mariehamn–Kapellskär: Rosella (Viking Line), with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Helsinki–Tallinn: Finlandia (Eckerö Line), Gabriella (Viking Line), Megastar (Tallink), all with a Finnish state subsidy
  • Helsinki (Vuosaari)–Muuga: Finbo Cargo (Eckerö Line), Sea Wind (Tallink)
  • Helsinki–Travemünde: Finnlady, Finnmaid and Finnstar (Finnlines)
  • Hanko–Paldiski: Sailor (DFDS)
  • Paldiski–Kapellskär: Optima Seaways (DFDS), Regal Star (Tallink)
  • Ventspils–Nynäshamn: Scottish Viking, Stena Flavia (Stena Line)

The Viking Grace photographed leaving Stockholm in the morning of 13 February 2020.

Suspended routes
  • Helsinki–Stockholm: normally operated by Viking Line (Gabriella and Mariella) and Silja Line (Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony)
  • Helsinki–St. Petersburg: normally operated by Moby SPL (Princess Anastasia)
  • Stockholm–Mariehamn 22-hour cruises: normally operated by Birka Cruises (Birka Stockholm) and Viking Line (Viking Cinderella)
  • Eckerö–Grisslehamn: normally operated by Eckerö Linjen (Eckerö)
  • Tallinn–Stockholm: normally operated by Tallink (Baltic Queen and Victoria I)
  • Riga–Stockholm: normally operated by Tallink (Isabelle and Romantika)

Birka Stockholm departing Stockholm in the evening of 13 February 2020.

Special routes operated because of the pandemic (all since suspended)
  • Turku–Kapellskär: Silja's Baltic Princess and Galaxy briefly operated to Kapellskär rather than Stockholm between 19-24 March, until returning to the normal route after receiving a state subsidy from Finland.
  • Paldiski–Sassnitz: Due to the Polish borders being closed, Tallink's Star operated on this novel route between 19 March and 18 April with a subsidy from the Estonian state. As the Polish borders have since been reopened for transit traffic, the service has been closed.
  • Riga–Sassnitz: Due to the same border closure, the Romantika operated one round trip from Riga to Sassnitz 17-19 March, with a subsidy from the Estonian and Latvian states.

The Star departing Tallinn for Helsinki on 16 June 2019. Note also the Viking XPRS in the background on the left.

Long-term effects
  • Rederi Ab Eckerö have made all crew (sans 13 people) on the Swedish-flagged Birka Stockholm and Eckerö redundant, as services are likely to be suspended until the summer and layoffs are not possible under Swedish law. Once services are restarted, the old crew members have priority in hiring.
  • Tallink have similarly made all crew on the Latvian-flagged Isabelle and Romantika redundant. At the same time, the company also stated that when restarted, the service would revert to a single-ship service, although a second ship would be restored if and when passenger numbers improve.

Viking's Gabriella is unusually running on the Helsinki–Tallinn route. Initially, Viking ran a reduced corona service with the Viking XPRS, but later received a Finnish state subsidy to run the Gabriella instead (in part due to the Finnish Seamen's Union objecting to the Swedish-flagged Galaxy and Estonian-flagged Megastar getting a subsidy) with essentially the XPRS's schedule. Photo from 17 June 2019.

Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, the construction of the new Baltic ferries Aurora Botnia (Wasaline's Wasa Express replacement) and Mystar (Tallink's Star replacement) continues normally, while reports from China indicate the building of the Viking Glory (Viking's Amorella replacement) has recommenced.

One more Megastar from 4 April, just because I can.

Of course, with the pandemic resulting in permanent closures of, for example, Stena Line's cruise-oriented Oslo–Frederikshavn route, the question does arise also in my home waters if some of the passenger-oriented routes surviving solely on the high income during the short summer season can continue, or if we will see more temporary reductions as one the Riga–Stockholm line, or even permanent closures? Much will, of course, depend of how long travel continues to be restricted, but also on whether or not it will have permanent effects of travel patterns?