Scotland Begins Using Tallink Ferry to House Ukrainian Refugees

ferry housing Ukrainian refugees
Tallink chartered a second ferry for refugee housing (Marko Stampehl photo courtesy of Tallink)

Published Jul 18, 2022 1:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

Across Europe, the challenge remains to accommodate the millions of Ukrainians that fled their homeland since the Russian invasion began in February. In the latest development, Scotland has begun housing some of the estimated 10,000 refugees it has taken in aboard a chartered Estonian ferry docked in the port of Leith, near Edinburgh. 

The charter for the 40,975 gross ton ferry Victoria I began on July 8, according to Tallink. It is the second ferry the Estonia company has chartered to house refugees, with the company’s ferry Isabelle docked in Estonia since April also to provide temporary housing. Concerns have been raised about the small size of the cabins aboard the ferries, especially as they are being provided to families with up to four people. The ferry operator however highlights the use of the public spaces aboard the vessels and reports that the Isabelle has been performing satisfactorily as temporary housing for nearly four months. 

"The vessels are comfortable, with plenty of public areas and space to use. So, yes, the sleeping area in the cabin may be small, but the overall public areas - with a doctor's surgery, buffet restaurant, cafe, pharmacy, on-board shop for incidentals, and many public services on board - is far more spacious than you would find in hotels, and certainly some other accommodation alternatives. So, we simply don't agree with the criticism,” a spokesperson for Tallink told the Estonian media outlet ERR News.

The ferry, which is 635 feet long, is nearly 20 years old and normally operates between Tallinn and Stockholm. It has over 700 cabins with a maximum capacity of over 2,500 people but reports indicate that Scotland plans to limit it to approximately 700 refugees. 

The Scottish Government signed a short-term time-charter agreement for the Victoria I. Tallink reports that the charter is for six months with an option to extend it for another three months. The Victoria I arrived in Scotland late last week and has already begun talking aboard refugees.

Since the beginning of the crisis, governments have been turning to cruise ships as a source of temporary housing in addition to hotels and other accommodations. The Estonia government is using the other Tallink ferry where they can process refugees and provide basic services in the meeting rooms while long-term housing options are resolved. Amsterdam in the spring started using two river cruise ships for housing.

Last week, Holland America Line confirmed to passengers that it expects the City of Rotterdam to end its charter of the cruise ship Volendam on September 10. Holland America’s ship has been providing temporary housing since April and the government already extended the contract once. The Volendam is expected to depart Rotterdam shortly after the end of the contract to prepare for her first commercial cruise in more than two years.