When the participants of the Motorways of the Sea conference arrived at Bock’s Corner on the second day of the event, expectations were high after the first successful gathering in Umeå, Sweden. The excited murmur of the crowd revealed no signs of fatigue, although the participants had travelled from Umeå to Vaasa on the previous day to continue the transport seminar. The Mayor of Vaasa,
Mr. Tomas Häyry, was visibly satisfied with the contents and atmosphere of the conference. In his opening speech, he promised to tirelessly promote the Midway Alignment project (which is currently being examined by the EU’s evaluation working group) in order for it to become a model example of the Motorways of the Sea programme.
The leading expert at the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications, Mr. Lassi Hilska, commended the new and bold business model implemented in the Kvarken for increasing the route’s competitiveness. He also reminded that access to the Arctic region was important. The region is vast and the connections long and, for that reason, he considers it troublesome that many of the maps that show transport systems practically end at the height of Helsinki and Stockholm.
However, Hilska pointed out that the average of 230 passengers in the Kvarken per sailing is too low; in order to be able to increase the passenger numbers, the ferry has to offer even better services and more sailings and the prices have to be suitable to stimulate demand. According to him, the support granted for shipping does more harm than good: “Public support must be well motivated and it mustn’t obstruct the market access of other operators.”
Another speaker, Executive Officer Mr. Olav Jern, used his speech to exhibit Ostrobothnia’s success and entrepreneurial spirit to the international guests, and he also reminded them that this success is not possible without good transport solutions and cross-border communications. This was echoed by the CEO of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Risto E.J. Penttilä, who joined in Jern’s praise of the prosperous region. According to him, several innovations (such as the piloting of new technology, the use of liquefied natural gas (LGN) and its positive environmental effects as well as the new business model sparked by the collaboration between the regions) spoke for the investments to the transport route.
CEO of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Risto E.J. Penttilä
Similar to Hilska, Penttilä also took up the issue of access to the Arctic region. Moreover, he emphasized the importance of good connections to Russia: “Russian economy will grow and, when it does, we need good transport routes and connections to the country.”
Experts from the University of Lappeenranta and the region’s prosperous companies (such as ABB, Danfoss Drives and Wärtsilä) lectured about the hybridization of ships and the related technology. Their message was that new battery technology enables the storage of electricity in batteries which, in turn, can be used to save energy and level peak consumption. At the same time, oil consumption is reduced by hybrid solutions and the use of LNG and electric engines.
The CEO of ESL Shipping, Mr. Mikael Koskinen, spoke of the new era of raw material shipping. He reminded of LNG’s requirements and stated that LNG ships by themselves are not enough − the whole industry has to start using LNG in order for infrastructure investments to become profitable. Koskinen also said that the use of LNG reduces maritime emissions and noise in the ports.
The Finnish Transport Agency’s Mr. Juhani Tervala (also called Mr. Transport) observed that it has become increasingly common in the last few years to apply for financing for motorways of the seas − maritime transport routes − now that TEN-T support is no longer granted for land motorways. Instead of public bodies submitting project applications, private companies and maritime operators have now become more active. Tervala amused the participants with a well-chosen analogy of the false assumption that Brad Pitt equals Hollywood and Helsinki equals Finland. He, too, had noticed that transport system maps only used to display Helsinki.
Member of European Parliament, Ms. Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, reminded already in the beginning of her speech that regular shipping across the Kvarken began as early as in 1858. Kumpula-Natri has strongly lobbied for the Kvarken traffic in Brussels, and she questioned the region’s chances of creating new competitiveness if they cannot be brought together with a transport route. Kumpula-Natri also talked about the importance of new and cleaner technology to the unique Kvarken Natural Heritage Site.
The conference was concluded by the Principal Administrator of TEN-T, Mr. José Anselmo, who is soon leaving his post in order to pursue other expert tasks. His most powerful message was about cooperation. Internal quarrelling will not help Finland at all; only by working together as a united front can the country acquire funding for such a good project as the Midway Alignment. He remarked that one must not expect too much from the financing application − although, in his opinion, the project will fare well in the Commission’s reading. He encouraged the project staff to proudly display the project in the future and wished that the Finnish MEPs would continue their fight. “May the Force be with you” was the parting farewell of Anselmo, who earned the nickname “Father of the Midway Alignment project” at the conference.
The conference was organized by the E12 Atlantica Transport project together with the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia (Finland), Region Västerbotten (Sweden) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE). The project is administered by the Kvarken Council and it receives support from the Interreg Botnia-Atlantica programme.
Text: VASEK / Johanna Hietikko-Koljonen