Ongoing Covid-19-related travel restrictions and the anticipated launch of a competitor’s service on the Norwegian coast has led ferry/cruise operator Hurtigruten and the Government of Norway to announce a short-term agreement that will see a continuation of the current coastal voyages.
Norway’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which contracts for the service, said that it was “critical for commerce and cargo transportation along the (Norwegian) coast”.
The ministry signed a deal with Hurtigruten during the autumn of 2020 to reduce the number of vessels sailing along the coastal route, particularly for the northern ports between Bodo and Kirkenes.
The service was reduced at least in part because of a dramatic decline in passengers. however the cargo service remained vital for getting supplies to many of Norway’s isolated coastal communities.
The Norwegian government has now contracted with Hurtigruten to operate five ships sailing the coastal route from now until the end of June 2021. The ships will sail the full route from Bergen to Kirkenes in the north.
The Transport Ministry said that this would provide a level of predictability for the residents. Most ports will continue to receive a ship every other day.
The previous hope had been to add at least four more ships back to the coastal route for the summer travel season.
Hurtigruten has a second, supplemental agreement with the government for the expanded service. This will be restored if the travel restrictions are eased. Hurtigruten said that it was hopeful that the rollout of the vaccine will increase the number of holidaymakers who can travel this summer.
Hurtigruten Norway CEO Hedda Felin said that “we are impatient to get into full operation. We know that the entire coast and tourism in Norway needs it”. However, Felin accepted that “as the situation is now, the most important thing for us has been to extend the agreement and the predictability that lies in it. It is important for freight customers, local passengers, and several hundred seafarers.”
In 2020 Hurtigruten decided to split into two divisions. One operation will focus on the expedition cruise business, which will be expanded with the reconditioning of vessels from the coastal service as well as the newly built expedition cruise ships. Hurtigruten Norway will continue to operate the historic coastal service.
From July, the newly-formed Havila Kystruten AS also plans to introduce a coastal service in direct competition to Hurtigruten. In 2017 the Norwegian government opted to split the coastal route tender to create competition on the route. However, Havila has suffered delays in the construction of its ships. The company recently set July 6th as the maiden voyage date for the first of its two ships operating along the coastal route. A second sister ship is due to enter service shortly after. The contract calls for a total of four ships operating the voyages.
Hurtigruten’s contract calls for it to operate a reduced fleet of seven ships on the coast. That plan calls for the restoration of daily port calls at each of the coastal cities after both companies are operating and travel restrictions have been reduced.