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Home* News and Stories → Hur­tig­ru­ten and Ponant are ope­ra­ting the first crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen

Hur­tig­ru­ten and Ponant are ope­ra­ting the first crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen

This year’s first two medi­um-sized expe­di­ti­on crui­se ships have now star­ted their sea­son in Spits­ber­gen – in spi­te of all rest­ric­tions and dif­fi­cul­ties con­nec­ted to ship­ping in times of the Coro­na cri­sis. Yes­ter­day (Fri­day, 17 July), Hurtigruten’s MS Spits­ber­gen star­ted her first trip. This may not be too much of a sur­pri­se, as tou­rists from Scan­di­na­vi­an count­ries (expect Swe­den) were allo­wed into Nor­way alre­a­dy from 15 June, and around that time the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment made first steps towards per­mit­ting ships with a capa­ci­ty of up to 500 pas­sen­gers to sail again in Spitsbergen’s waters. This was and is, in theo­ry, valid for all ship owners, but in prac­ti­ce, it could well be unders­tood as a “lex Hur­tig­ru­ten”, or at least it is not a sur­pri­se that the Nor­we­gi­an com­pa­ny is the first that is prac­ti­cal­ly able to take advan­ta­ge of it.

Corona-Virus, Spitzbergen

Ponant’s ship Le Bore­al on 18 July as the first non-Nor­we­gi­an crui­se­ship in the port of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The French com­pa­ny Ponant fol­lo­wed on day later with Le Bore­al, alt­hough the infor­ma­ti­on that tou­rists from most EU/EEA count­ries are allo­wed to tra­vel to Nor­way again is just one week old; the list of “green count­ries” was published on 10 July.

And the company’s ear­lier drafts of the man­da­to­ry health safe­ty plan is said to have had its weak­ne­s­ses. Accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten, the local dise­a­se con­trol offi­ci­al had expres­sed bey­ond doubt to be unhap­py about seve­ral issues. Ponant, howe­ver, seem to have impro­ved their papers and the Sys­sel­man­nen have given their thumbs-up and Le Bore­al is allo­wed to sail and ope­ra­te seve­ral trips over a cou­ple of weeks in Sval­bard waters. Pas­sen­gers are flown in and out of Lon­gye­ar­by­en with sche­du­led flights, as no char­ter flights are curr­ent­ly per­mit­ted at Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port.

The­re are, howe­ver, a cou­ple of con­di­ti­ons that every com­pa­ny con­side­ring crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen curr­ent­ly has to deal with: among­st others, only half of the pas­sen­ger capa­ci­ty of any ship – 264 beds in case of the Le Bore­al – is per­mit­ted to be used.

The Le Bore­al pas­sen­gers had to be tes­ted nega­tively for Covid-19 pri­or to their depar­tu­re from home and again befo­re dis­em­bar­ka­ti­on in Reykja­vik, for the first crui­se that finis­hed yes­ter­day in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In case of Covid-19 cases or sus­pi­ci­on on board, the ship has to sail to Trom­sø and not to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It will be inte­res­t­ing to fol­low the fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment and the reac­tion of other com­pa­nies, but it seems likely that many, espe­ci­al­ly tho­se ope­ra­ting small ships, will find it dif­fi­cult if not impos­si­ble to ope­ra­te under the­se con­di­ti­ons, also con­side­ring eco­no­mic­al aspects.

But the­re are, as always, excep­ti­ons to the rule: the small expe­di­ti­on ship Ori­go has alre­a­dy car­ri­ed out her first trips in Spits­ber­gen. But she had spent seve­ral months of wai­ting at anchor for a chan­ce to start sai­ling near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

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last modification: 2020-07-18 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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