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The tardy ferries and a triumphant Leedo

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PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

Come fall, the Estonian taxpayer is faced with the next hefty additional bill due to rearrangements of mainland-islands ferry traffic. For a month now, the grapevine is confidently declaring that of the four new vessels only one will be completed on time - with luck. Therefore, at least for a while the state desires to buy operating service from the businessman Vjatšeslav Leedo.

Starting October 1st, the ferryboat traffic will be operated by state owned Port of Tallinn’s subsidiary TS Laevad. Its CEO Kaido Padar is in hot water. While the change of operator was presented publicly as a huge success saving a lot of taxpayer money as added benefit, the project led by Mr Padar is getting costlier as it goes.

The politicians who initially flaunted the idea as their major accomplishment have vanished from the scene. Thus, Mr Padar is left alone to take the public brunt. And even here, the decision makers at the state enterprise are not too skilled. Instead of telling us all the bad news and predictions at one sweep, they cut the dog’s tail many times over.

While Mr Padar is still promising three new ships in Estonia by October 1st, in the offices at the ministry the talk is already totally different. To the knowledge of Postimees, for this past month the economy ministry is rather considering the option that only one vessel of the four built in Turkey and Poland will make it to Estonia by deadline.

Therefore, a Plan B has been prepared, prescribing that ships and staff will be rented from the current operator i.e. Mr Leedo for many a month to come. And, regarding that, the talks are underway. With the state enterprise with back against the wall, Mr Leedo is dictating the terms.

Yesterday, the news broke about the ferryboat Regula to be purchased from Mr Leedo. The ship being 45 years old, the public reaction was one of pain.

Here, the major winner is Mr Leedo who succeeded in selling the ship to the state for almost €5m, having purchased it in 1997 for about €2m. During the 19 years, the selfsame ship has managed to earn Mr Leedo a decent profit as it is.

«For Saaremaa Laevakompanii, this was the deal of the ages, while ironically also «good» for the port,» commented an internationally experienced shipping expert asking for anonymity.

In addition to the financial win, the staff at the shipping company is blessed as well as majority will be likely to be employed by TS Laevad.

Built in Meyer shipyard, Germany, in 1971, Regula may seem to be scrap iron – as critically labelled by former economy minister Juhan Parts – but it thankfully is more.

Unlike the new generation vessels, those built in Europe in the 70ies and 80ies have durable hulls and are meant for longer term use. Add the experienced crew and maintenance every five years, and Regula is ensured at least a decade of problem-free life.

For that reason, having eyed dozens of vessels on international market, TS Laevad finally took Regula. «Of the options on the table, they got the best deal whether liked by taxpayer or not,» said the shipping expert.

«And it is not excluded that on October 1st, this very Regula is the only ferry owned by TS Laevad in operation,» he suggested.

The news stream of sudden turns with the ferryboat traffic is surely not over yet.

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Parts critical of deal

Former economy minister Juhan Parts fails to understand why Port of Tallinn needed to buy a spare ship for the lines, the 45 years old Regula.

«I don't know where the spare ship requirement came from – the more so that every extra requirement costs money, see» said Mr Parts. «Common sense says new ships will work all days and no need for a spare ship. Will they be fixing the new ships from the start?» wondered Mr Parts, adding that a spare ship could be rented but this one will now be standing idle and causing expenses.

Mr Parts also fails to understand why the plan was altered to find an operator by way of competition. «At the competitions, there have always been more than one participants,» added Mr Parts, convinced that inclusion of private enterprises in competitions would help the state manage risks and arrange cheaper ferry traffic.

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