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The story of a company’s creation and growth

I love Saaremaa, for it is here I was born, here are my roots…

AS Saaremaa Laevakompanii (SLK) was founded in 1992. Up until 1994, its business was freight transport, with the main items being the transport of pulpwood and bulk solids from Estonia to several countries abroad.

From 1 October 1994, SLK’s main business became the transport of passengers and vehicles by ferry. In 1994, the company was awarded a public procurement contract for operating ferry services between Estonia’s major islands and the mainland. SLK succeeded because the company was willing to take over all staff and pledged to invest in better, more state-of-the-art, ships in the future. So far, this pledge has been honoured successfully. This is how operations on the Kuivastu-Virtsu, Rohuküla-Heltermaa and Rohuküla-Sviby routes began. In 2001, the Triigi-Sõru route was added.

Its supplementary area of activity, the chartering of ships for international partners, has seen its ships brave the rough seas of the Faroe Islands and Iceland to replace ships there during longer repairs. These have been exciting collaborative projects.

Today, the main business of the parent company is the technical maintenance of ferries and crewing them with professionally competent staff. It is no mean stunt for a shipping company to embark on the building of brand-new ships – as many as three at the same time. The building of three new ferries (2007-2011) has provided unique shipbuilding experience. The company considers it important to apply the acquired shipbuilding experience and knowledge in the development of a new business stream, offering engineering oversight of shipbuilding as a new endeavour. The first project along these lines will see the completion, in Finland, of a new ship for the Border Guard of Estonia, with oversight performed by SLK.

The company has been consistently searching for new avenues for expanding its business and advancing maritime affairs in Estonia. 2007 saw the founding of the Foundation for the Advancement of Maritime Education, which, through its scholarships, supports the popularisation of maritime education as a hallmark field of endeavour in a maritime nation. Today, SLK has taken on a role much broader than what could have been dreamt of in its early years. Ferry traffic is a key factor in the development of the economy and the creation of a better living environment on the islands, which also involves great social responsibility, which has been borne successfully so far.

Branching off – the subsidiaries

2005 saw the founding of SLK’s subsidiary Väinamere Liinid OÜ. In 2006, Väinamere Liinid was awarded a contract under an open tender for scheduled services and has been operating the Heltermaa-Rohuküla, Kuivastu-Virtsu and Triigi-Sõru ferry services under contracts for the provision of public services for passenger transport since October 2006. Since spring 2012 Väinamere Liinid has been operating the Roomassaare-Ringsu and Pärnu-Ringsu line. Today, the subsidiary has taken over all the administration related to the management of the public service and is energetically leading a forward-looking integrated service where every detail is thought out.

SLK Ferries OÜ (subsequently SSC Ferries OÜ), a subsidiary set up by SLK in March 2005, operated the international Mõntu-Ventspils route linking Saaremaa and Latvia from 2005 through the close of the summer season in 2008. The Latvian Tourism Development Agency awarded the route the title of the Best Latvian Tourism Product 2005. The Scania, a ferry formerly in SLK's fleet, plied the route; it now bears the name of the Emanuele d'Abundo Primo, sailing in Italy.

In the winter of 2006, SLK’s subsidiary launched OÜ Narva Line, another international shipping service between the Ports of Sillamäe and Kotka, with the ferry Vironia plying the route. The venture garnered an honourable mention as the Ida-Viru County Tourism Feat for 2006. Today, the service has been closed – with the hope of being resumed at some point.

Worker bees – the staff

A company’s soul is its staff wishing to share and carry the company’s values

The biggest asset for any company is people carrying out duties and performing roles that best suit their temperament, knowledge and abilities. In recent years, Saaremaa Laevakompanii has employed 150 people on average. During its years of operation a highly competent and reliable staff has become entrenched, who have been doing their work with dedication for many years. Quite a few seamen have been working for the company since it was first founded. Fledgling seamen still learning their trade also gain their first work experience on its ships, as the company has been serving as a field training facility for various educational institutions for years. It is a mission to ensure that Estonia as a maritime nation, and its seamen, continues to be well-regarded.

Employees are supported through training events to instil confidence to do better in their roles. Developing staff and organisational culture has drawn on resources from the EU Structural Funds under the support measure for the development of knowledge and skills. The latest major project, “Development of the knowledge and skills of staff at AS Saaremaa Laevakompanii”, lasted from January 2010 through April 2011, with twelve training events for all staff held during the period. The core objective of the project was to provide staff with support and encouragement in adapting to changes brought on by the implementation of major technology upgrades.

The ships and safe seafaring

Each ship has her own soul, name and story...

Bulk ships were Saaremaa Laevakompanii’s first vessels: the Alma, the Reet and the Katrin. In December 1997, eight ferries dating to the Soviet period, leased by SLK up to then, were purchased from AS Saarte Liinid. At various times, the fleet has included ferries – the Vohilaid, the Ahelaid, the Vormsi, the Hiiumaa, the Tehumardi, the Koguva, the Vardo, the Viire and the Scania – that have since left the fleet.

In 2013, there were eight ferries in the fleet: the Muhumaa, the Saaremaa, the Hiiumaa, the Regula, the St Ola, the Ionas, the Harilaid and the Kõrgelaid. Upgrading the fleet with more state-of-the-art vessels has necessitated the sale of existing ships. Upgrading the fleet and selling are always on the agenda, as they are part and parcel of the continuous evolution of the company and its services. The smallest vessel is a passenger ship with seating for 92, the Aegna, which plied the Tallinn-Aegna route in 2004 and subsequently, in various years, the Roomassaare-Ruhnu and Roomassaare-Munalaid (Pärnu) routes, the latter most recently in the summer of 2011. In May, 2012 a newbuilt caramaran type passenger ferry, the Runö joined SLK' s fleet and operates Roomassaare-Ruhnu and Roomassaare-Munalaid (Pärnu) routes during summer period. From 1 June 2015 till May 2016, we operate with new built ferry named Ormsö between the mainland of Estonia and Vormsi island.

Seafaring involves hazards that have to be considered daily to ensure security and safety. The company has implemented a system of procedures for maritime safety in line with the relevant International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the requirements of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code. As proof of this, a certificate of conformity has been issued to the company itself and safety management certificates for the ships operated. The safety management system and the security system of AS Saaremaa Laevakompanii are audited by the Estonian Maritime Administration.

Ships' masters are responsible for safety and security aboard Saaremaa Laevakompanii’s ships. Onshore units are responsible for overseeing, developing and supporting safety and security.

New ships and port systems

Our world has been created by people who were not satisfied with the existing state of affairs and who knew they could improve something (R. Sharma)

A new era in the history of Väinameri shipping traffic and the Saaremaa Laevakompanii began on 24 August 2007, when SLK and financial partners of the company concluded an agreement with AS Fiskerstrand BLRT for the construction of three new ferries.

Hulls of the three ships were assembled at JSC Western Shipyard (Vakarų laivų gamykla) in Klaipėda. Once the hulls had been completed, the ships were towed to the Fiskerstrand BLRT AS shipyard in Norway, where electrical work, equipment installation and interior fitting of the ships were carried out.

The new ferries, the Muhumaa (March 2010), the Saaremaa (June 2010) and the Hiiumaa (May 2010) ply the Rohuküla-Heltermaa and Kuivastu-Virtsu ferry routes. Each of them has capacity for 160 passenger cars and up to 600 passengers. The ships are about 97 metres long, 18 metres wide and have a draught of 4 metres.

2008 saw the introduction of electronic ticketing on the ferry services, an important fact, as this was a bellwether and prerequisite for the setting-up of new flexible port systems.

Since the spring of 2010, ferry tickets have been on sale at outdoor ticket offices set up by Saarte Liinid AS, and new expanded waiting areas have been introduced at the Ports of Virtsu, Kuivastu, Rohuküla and Heltermaa. During the reconstruction of ferry ports in 2009 and 2010, the technology and software (electronic port) for the system for embarkation and ticket checks were upgraded in collaboration with Tuule Piletikeskus OÜ. Since June 2010, ticket checks, alignment of vehicles in the port area and the loading of vehicles on ships at the Ports of Virtsu, Kuivastu, Rohuküla and Heltermaa have been performed by means of a new state-of-the-art integrated solution permitting speedy loading and unloading. This ensures the merger of the ticket purchase and checks areas at the beginning of the port area and thereby a speedy and smooth loading process.

This is a unique and historic opportunity, where such great advances have occurred simultaneously – new ships, reconstructed ports and an automatic system for ticket checks and loading. The result is smooth and commendable ferry services in the interests of the entire region.

Thank you for the recognition

Bold dreams become great deeds thanks to the persistence of hardworking people, thanks to the support of wonderful people

The work done to improve shipping traffic has attracted notice everywhere. The Royal National Institution of Naval Architects in the UK picked the prototype for two ferries, the Saaremaa and the Muhumaa, as ranking amongst the top 50 noteworthy ships completed in the world in 2010.

On Saaremaa, improvements to ferry traffic by the company have garnered all manner of titles awarded by Saare County for accomplishments in a given year: Saare Punnija 2010 – through hardships to the top result, Best Tourism Developer 2010, Sea Feat 2010, Saare County Feat 2010, Lääne County Tourism Developer 2012 and several more. Amongst the best electronic services, the electronic ticketing portal merited an honourable mention based on customers’ assessments.

The most heart-warming thing is that inhabitants of Saaremaa come and offer their sincere approval of and thanks for the work that has improved and helped their lives noticeably.

Our wonderful partners

Business means loving people who do business with you and offering them more value than they even know to expect (R. Sharma)

  • Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications
  • Governments of Hiiu and Saare Counties
  • Association of Saare Country Entrepreneurs
  • OÜ Tuule Piletikeskus – a technological solution for electronic ticketing and electronic port
  • AS Väinamere Teenindus – catering and retail trade aboard ferries
  • AS Saarte Liinid – administration and development of ports
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