Dutch Charter Two Tallink Ferries to House Refugees
Plans are moving forward to begin housing refugees on chartered ferries in the Netherlands despite the criticism from relief organizations and opposition from local municipalities and residents. Details have been confirmed for the second and third ferry to be chartered while government officials continue to search for ports to accommodate the ships.
Briefing Parliament on their plans, Eric van der Burg, a justice minister who is charged with overseeing the refugee efforts, said they have abandoned the widely ridiculed plan to anchor the ships off the Dutch coast. One of the refugee organizations had called the proposal “absurd,” equating it to jailing the refugees.
The Dutch news outlet NL Times quoted the refugee organization Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland as saying, “You don’t need research to think that you can’t do that to people who have fled from war and violence. You take in asylum seekers as a society and not from a distance at sea.”
The government is seeking docks to place the three ferries at saying that they expect the first ship will now be opened by September 1. They cited the logistical problems of providing transportation back and forth to the ships anchored offshore as well as the challenges of supplying the ships while at anchor.
Currently, they are looking at using a berth in Velsen, a municipality on the north side of the North Sea Canal west of Amsterdam. The town council had previously said its dock was not suitable but van der Burg said an investigation is underway to upgrade the dock to accommodate a ferry, which would likely be Cypriot-flagged Aurelia, which is believed already on its way to the Netherlands. Vlissingen, near the southern border with Belgium, has been cited as another possible location despite local opposition and Zaanstad recently turned down the plan citing pollution concerns.
While the search for docks continues, Estonia ferry operator Tallink confirmed that it has chartered two more of its vessels to provide refugee housing. The company, which has previously chartered vessels to Estonia and Scotland also to provide accommodations, said it would deliver the Silja Europa and Galaxy after the busy summer season on the Baltic to Slaapschepen Public BV, an organization nominated by Centraal Orgaan Opvang Asielzoekers (COA) in the Netherlands to oversee the accommodations.
The Silja Europa, a 30-year-old ferry, currently operates 22-hour trips between Tallinn-Helsinki. The 59,900 gross ton vessel has 1,500 cabins with a total capacity of 3,123 passengers. She will begin a seven-month charter on August 20 with an option to extend it for three additional months. She will be joined by the Galaxy, which was built in 2006 and has 795 cabins. Currently, on the Turku-Stockholm route, her charter will begin on September 30 and is also for seven months with an option for three additional months.
Tallink’s ferry Isabelle has been used since April to house Ukrainian refugees in Estonia. The government recently excised the first of two possible two-month extensions for this charter. The company also recently delivered its ferry Victoria I to Scotland on a six-month charter with an option to extend the charter for another three months. The ferry began providing accommodations for its first refugees earlier this week.
Tallink expects to take delivery on its newly built, dual-fuel ferry MyStar in September and will use it as a replacement on the Tallinn-Helsinki route. Service on other routes, including Riga-Stockholm, was suspended for 2022 after the company chartered its ferries.