* The current price of fuel is so high that it seems bound to lead to increases in the ticket prices on high-speed catamaran services from Helsinki to Tallinn. As a result of the increased costs, several passenger shipping lines have already introduced fuel surcharges to be added to their ticket tariffs.
Car ferry operator Silja Line already announced a fuel surcharge of EUR 8.00 in their return ticket prices, while the additional charge reported by Tallink and Nordic Jet Line was EUR 10.00. For example, in the summer, Nordic Jet Line's lowest return price for a crossing over the Gulf of Finland and back is EUR 54.
The number of passengers from Helsinki to Tallinn dropped by some five percent during the first months of the current year when compared with the same period last year. The decline can partly be attributed to the reduced number of vessels plying the route.
Particularly the number of high-speed ferries is declining. For example, Silja Line has reduced its fleet on the Helsinki-Tallinn route by one fast ferry and two cruise ships from last year.
Furthermore, Tallink has only three high-speed AutoExpress vessels left sailing the Helsinki-Tallinn run, and the company is planning to reduce the number even further. On the other hand, Tallink also has one new cruise ship carrying passengers over the Gulf of Finland.
No signs of any major slowdown in the traffic between the two cities can be noticed, despite the recent slight dip. In 2005, the number of passengers travelling by sea to Tallinn was over 6.1 million - almost as many as in the record year of 2000.
Both Tallink and Viking Line are planning to place a new kind of fast car ferries on the route. These ferries would sail from Helsinki to Tallinn in about two hours - just slightly slower than the high-speed catamarans.
Tallink will start operating its new vessel already next winter, while Viking's fast car ferry will be launched at the beginning of 2008.
"The competition is very tough", comments Nils-Erik Eklund, Managing Director of Viking Line.
The number of passenger cars .......
........ carried over the Gulf of Finland by car ferries and catamarans is growing. The estimated growth for this year is about 20 percent.
The reason for the increasing car traffic is the distinct change in the Finns' travelling habits. "In addition to cruising and shopping, people can find plenty of other reasons to travel to the Baltic States today", says Tuomas Nylund, the communications director of Silja Line. This more expansive attitude, taking in other countries besides Estonia, partly explains the increase in the travel by car.
On the other hand, the share of Estonians bringing cars over to Finland, either for work or leisure, is growing as well.
According to Managing Director Mikael Granrot of Nordic Jet Line Finland, the share of business travellers and commuters is growing, which brings more cars on board the vessels operating the route.
Furthermore, a new shipping service between Finland's southeastern city of Kotka and Sillamäe in Eastern Estonia has been launched this week. The new rival Narva Line started its cargo services already at the beginning of March, and the company is to launch regular passenger services using M/S Vironia from the beginning of June. The vessel can accommodate 370 passengers, and it will have six departures a week from each port. As could be expected, the ticket prices are low: a return ticket for an adult is only EUR 34, while another EUR 42 will be charged for a car.
According to Narva Line, the shipping line's target for the current year is 20,000 passengers.
Previously in HS International Edition :
Gas price spike will be immediate and abrupt at Finnish pumps (2.9.2005)
Fuel prices hit record highs (16.8.2005)
Travel by car on Helsinki-Tallinn route is increasing after Estonia joins EU (2.5.2005)
High-speed catamaran service to Tallinn to pick up later this week (12.4.2005)