Ilmari Elo

The father of the deep-water fairway emphasised the independence of the port


Ilmari Elo, B.Sc. (Econ.), the former Port Director of Kotka, died at his home in Loviisa on Finnish Independence Day 6 December 2017 at the age of 85 years.

Ilmari Elo headed the Port of Kotka from 1975 to 1995, during a period when the key parts of the port, Kantasatama and Hietanen, were getting overcrowded. Kotka had to find new solutions so that its port could continue to compete over the growing transport volumes and especially over the transit traffic to and from the Soviet Union.

Ilmari Elo was a key driving force when the planning of the Mussalo deep-water harbour began at the end of the 1970s and also in its construction a decade later. Mr Elo was still in office when it was generally stated that the deep-water harbour was a timely and profitable investment.

Of course, there were many who wanted to name themselves as the origin of the success story, but the idea for the construction of the deep-water harbour came from Ilmari Elo. The historian Juhani Saarinen has recorded in the history of the Port of Kotka an event, which is still confirmed true by Juhani Forss, the former Managing Director of Steveco and the other party of the event.

The Port Committee of Kotka was visiting the new deep-water harbour of Tahkoluoto in Pori in 1978. In the sunshine of a summery afternoon, Port Director Ilmari Elo and Juhani Forss, a member of the Port Committee and at that point the Deputy Managing Director of Kotka Stevedoring, were looking at the port of Tahkoluoto from the deck of the port tug Porin Karhu:

“One asked the other: ‘Are you thinking about the same thing as I?’

The other answered: ‘Yes, I am.’

The other continued: ‘The only possible place is at the southern part of Mussalo.’

The other concurred: ‘That’s right.’”

(Juhani Saarinen: Miljoonamöljä, 2008)

The words for the birth of a deep-water harbour in Kotka had been uttered, but it took more than 10 years before the inauguration of the harbour was celebrated. While the idea of a deep-water terminal gained shape on drawing boards and in decision-making processes in the 1980s, port construction in Kotka focused on the expansion of the Hietanen Harbour.

Ilmari Elo saw the significance of the deep-water fairway for the success of the port and hence of the entire Kotka. With a background in economy, he also considered it important that the port would be an independent profit unit. Ilmari Elo wanted to make the port a municipally-owned commercial enterprise, which took place through the decision of the City Council in 1993. This was also a step closer to becoming a limited company. Port of Kotka Ltd started as the first port company in Finland at the beginning of 1999.

In an interview in the Navigator journal in 1989, Ilmari Elo already envisaged a future that would become reality 20 years later with the establishment of Port of HaminaKotka Ltd in 2011:

“Far in the future Ilmari Elo sees an opportunity to combine the port administrations of Kotka and Hamina, but this naturally calls for political decisions and the establishment of for example some type of federation of municipalities or limited company for the project.”

(Navigator 4/1989)

As the Port Director, Ilmari Elo was considered a humanist who was rich in ideas and who had a good rapport with his employees.

Mr Elo is not only remembered as an influential person in the seafaring business, but also as a yachtsman and writer. He continued his cultural interests after retiring and moving to Loviisa, where he lived in his adolescence. He took part in pursuits involving topics such as traditional workboats and wooden boat sailing, and he wrote and edited several books dealing with seafaring.

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