Finnish sea transports need both cargo and passengers
The Port of Helsinki’s passenger traffic volume has remained very low for several weeks now. A week ago it was reduced even further when the Finnish Government urged shipping companies to stop selling tickets to Sweden, Estonia and Germany until mid-May. In practice, Finnish ports are now only being used by a small number of workers who are considered essential for security of supply. Arriving passengers are checked by the Finnish Border Guard and turned around when necessary.
RoPax ferries are now sailing without passengers, and cargo alone is not enough to keep their operation profitable. Because of this, the National Emergency Supply Agency is now funding the maintaining of three shipping connections between Helsinki and Tallinn to secure imports and exports. Furthermore, the Finnish Government decided last week on a support package for shipping companies, which the Port of Helsinki has also been lobbying for. The package provides shipping companies with EUR 600 million in state guarantees for their bank loans, which they need in order to survive the coronavirus crisis.
While the aforementioned measures are more than welcome, they are not enough to secure the continuation of sea transport operations during the ongoing crisis and their recovery afterwards. Because of this, the Port of Helsinki expects the Finnish Government to make further decisions on the matter in its additional budget in May. In the current situation, it is considered important that shipping companies’ route fees be waived retroactively from the start of the year and until next year.
The coronavirus crisis has shown how critical RoPax traffic is for Finland’s security of supply. In addition to daily food products, the majority of the medicines that Finnish people need also arrive by car ferry.
Combining cargo and passengers
Finland has balanced the higher transportation costs resulting from its remote location by transporting cargo and passengers on the same ships. These types of cost-effective sea transports are vital for Finland’s export-driven national economy. Combining cargo and passengers is also an environmentally friendly way of carrying out transports.
Despite being so characteristic of Finnish seafaring, it seems that the interlinking of cargo and passengers had recently started to slip people’s minds. As part of the discussion on Helsinki’s city policy last autumn, it was suggested that the West Harbour’s truck traffic could be re-directed to the cargo ships operating out of Vuosaari. However, the fact is that separating cargo and passenger traffic would have major negative impacts in regard to logistics costs and smooth flow.
The Port of Helsinki is the busiest passenger port in Europe. Frequent transport services have enabled the creation of a shared employment market between Helsinki and Tallinn and diversified the economies of both Finland and Estonia. At present, several industries are waiting to hear when workers and passengers can start crossing the Gulf of Finland once more. Only then can the Helsinki-Tallinn region continue its development with the support of frequent ship connections. Once the coronavirus situation eases up, ship traffic will, in part, enable people to return to normal life.
The Port of Helsinki and its cooperation partners have an important role to play once the restrictions set in response to the coronavirus are lifted and efforts to rebuild Finland’s economy towards new heights begin.
The author, Ville Haapasaari, is the CEO of Port of Helsinki Ltd