Fast vessels not expected in service until mid-April.
Passenger ferries between Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn are expected to continue to be nearly fully booked at least until mid-April. The only ships that can navigate the Gulf of Finland during winter are the large, relatively slow vessels that can plow through floating ice.
The smaller high-speed hydrofoils and catamarans are not expected to be in service until mid-April at the earliest.
Ice conditions have changed considerably since January, when it appeared that real winter conditions might not come at all.
Håkan Nordström, CEO of the Tallink shipping line, says that even in late February it looked like the fast vessels might be taken into service already during Easter. However, a subsequent cold snap has led to thicker, longer-lasting ice.
If there is no letup in the ice situation before then, Tallink is considering bringing an extra car-passenger ferry onto the Helsinki-Tallinn route for the weekend of April 15th - 17th to accommodate the approximately 2,000 people who have booked a crossing on the fast vessels. The ship that would be used is currently sailing the Tallinn-Stockholm route.
In addition to the ice conditions that prevent the hydrofoils and catamarans from operating, the shipping lines report a sharp increase in demand over the previous year.
There are also seasonal factors, such as the current Easter weekend, which attract large numbers of passengers.
"There has been a constant increase in the number of passengers since early May", says Taru Keronen, CEO of Eckerö Line.
At the beginning of May last year Estonia joined the European Union. In addition to Finns attracted by the unlimited amounts of cheap alcoholic beverages they are allowed to bring from other EU countries, there are more Estonians who work in Finland and travel home for the weekend. These weekend commuters are expected to switch to the fast vessels as soon as they begin operating again.
However, most of the passengers on the large ferries prefer the slower pace, giving them plenty of time to enjoy the bars, restaurants, and entertainment on board.
"When Estonia joined the EU, it was feared that the cruises would lose popularity", notes Tuomas Nylund of Silja Line. "Nevertheless, the popularity of the cruises has exceeded expectations", he says.