The current plans of the Norwegian government to introduce compulsory pilotage in Spitsbergen in a similar way as in Norway meets critizism and worries those concerned. Leading staff members of the responsible Norwegian coastal authority (Kystverket) have now expressed that they see that the current proposal needs to be adjusted to the different conditions in Spitsbergen.
Small ships with passenger numbers less or even far less than 100, that operate tours around Spitsbergen that can last up to more than 2 weeks, would mostly be forced to terminate their sailings in Spitsbergen immediately if compulsory pilotage comes into force as announced, involving costs of several hundred Euro per hour. All vessels longer than 70 metres and all passenger vessels longer than 24 metres are concerned.
Theoretically, experienced nautical officers can get fairway certificates, which means that they do not need to have a pilot on board. Given the current legislative proposal, this will however in practice be impossible for most. To mention only one example of the beaurocratic obstacles: The navigator needs to have sailed the relevant passage at least 6 times in every direction. This may make sense for the Norwegian coastline with its traffic patterns that are mostly shuttle traffic. In Spitsbergen, most ships circumnavigate the main island or the whole archipelago. As this is traditionally almost always done in a clockwise direction, there are Captains who have done this countless times – but only in one direction, so formally they don’t qualify for a fairway certificate.
Due to this and similar regulations, an estimated near 80 % of even the most experienced Captains will not be able to obtain fairway certificates. If the official pilot will be able to contribute with any knowledge that such Captains and officers do not have is yet another question.
Pilotage is announced to come into force stepwise until 2014. A decision is due in June.
MS Stockholm in drift ice at the north coast of Spitsbergen. The ship and her Captain are local maritime veterans.