Finland: Shutdown of maritime traffic may affect 100,000 passengers

The ferry M/S Viking Grace belonging to Finnish cruise company Viking Line. (Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images)
The ferry M/S Viking Grace belonging to Finnish cruise company Viking Line. (Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images)
The Finnish Seamen’s Union and the Finnish Engineers’ Association are threatening to start supportive action at 2 pm Thursday to stand alongside crews of Finland’s icebreaker fleet in their labour dispute with their employer, state-owned Arctia Shipping.

If the sympathy strike proves necessary, it will extend the strike to every cargo ship sailing under the Finnish flag. This would potentially include the passenger cruise ships of Viking Line, Tallink Silja and Eckerö Line.

Union support of an icebreaker crew strike threatens to shut down all of Finland’s maritime traffic flying under the Finnish flag just in time for the Easter holidays. The Finnish Seamen’s Union and the Finnish Engineers’ Association decided on Tuesday that they will begin support action for the strike on Holy Thursday at 2 pm if a settlement can’t be reached.

If the sympathy strike ends up happening, the two unions’ members will not help incoming cargo and freight vessels return to sea, the unions said in a press release.

“The ships would remain at port,” said the Seamen’s Union head Simo Zitting.

Union members would also not be allowed to serve passenger vessels sailing to foreign destinations that carry cargo in their car deck. This would not however prohibit the passenger ferries from transporting passenger cars and buses.

Silja and Viking may be affected

The passenger cruise company Viking Line was surprised to hear the news that the extended strike might affect their operations. They say the strike couldn’t have come at a worse time, as part of their fleet is booked solid over the Easter weekend.

The strike could potentially affect the voyages of the Viking’s Finnish-flagged cruise ships the MS Amorella, Grace, Mariella, Gabriella and Rosella. Over the Easter holiday, 87,000 Viking passengers could be affected.

Marika Nöjd, Communications Director for Tallink Silja, says that the labour negotiations are still underway and so there’s no need to be concerned quite yet.

“We have faith that the strike will not extend to passenger traffic,” she says.

Two ships in the Silja fleet, the MS Serenade and the MS Baltic Princess, could also be affected by the strike, but Nöjd asks that passengers with reservations for Thursday stay calm.

“We hope the passengers don’t panic. Let’s just see how the situation progresses. We haven’t pushed the panic button yet or made any kinds of special arrangements.”

The line’s Serenade and Baltic Princess are scheduled to carry around 20,000 passengers between Thursday and Monday.

Seven weeks of negotiations already

State icebreaker company Arctia Shipping has been negotiating with its striking crew members for months without a settlement. Arctia Shipping indicated its willingness to accept the state mediator Minna Helle’s settlement proposal a few days ago, but the employees are still not satisfied and refuse to settle.

At first, talk of potential support action only applied to cargo ships, but on Tuesday, the Finnish Seamen’s Union announced the possibility that the strike would be expanded to passenger ships. The strike would only apply to vessels flying under the Finnish flag. In addition to the Viking and Silja passenger ships, the support action would also apply to Eckerö Line traffic.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Supply barge adrift in the Arctic for months, Radio Canada International

China: China’s silk road plans could challenge Northern Sea Route, Blog by Mia Bennett

Finland: New Finland icebreaker can operate sideways with asymmetrical hull, Yle News

Greenland: Study finds increase in litter on Arctic seafloor, Blog by Mia Bennett

Iceland: 10 takeaways from the 2014 Arctic Circle Assembly, Alaska Dispatch

Russia: Submariners feed polar bears with garbage, Barents Observer

United States:  Ship trouble in the Arctic on the rise: report, Alaska Public Radio Network


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