In the face of ongoing travel restrictions linked to the COVID virus and the anticipated launch of a competing service on the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten and the Norwegian government have announced a short-term agreement to maintain current coastal travel. According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, maintaining the service is essential for trade and transport of goods along the coast.
The ministry, which is contracting out the service, agreed with Hurtigruten last fall to reduce the number of ships sailing along the coastal route and in particular to the northern ports between Bodo and Kirkenes. Service has been reduced to every other day or even less frequently at times in part due to the dramatic drop in passenger numbers. Freight service, however, remained essential to supplying many isolated coastal communities.
As part of the new deal, the government contracts with Hurtigruten to operate five vessels navigating the coastal route by the end of June 2020. The ships will sail the full route from Bergen to Kirkenes in the north. With the five ships now in service, the ministry said it offers residents a level of predictability. Most ports will continue to receive a ship every two days.
The goal, however, was to add at least four more ships to the coastal route for the summer season. Hurtigruten has a second additional agreement with the government for the expanded service which will be reinstated if travel restrictions are relaxed. Hurtigruten hopes that with the increasing distribution of the vaccine, more vacationers will be able to travel this summer.
“We are looking forward to getting fully operational. We know that the whole coast and tourism in Norway need it, ”said Hedda Felin, CEO of Hurtigruten Norway. “But as it stands, the most important thing for us has been to extend the deal and the predictability that lies within it. This is important for freight customers, local passengers and several hundred seafarers. ”
Hurtigruten is evolving as a company that decided in 2020 to split into two divisions. One operation will focus on the expedition cruise business, which will be expanded with the reconditioning of coastal service vessels as well as newly built expedition cruise ships. Hurtigruten Norway will continue to operate the historic coastal service.
From July, a second company also plans to introduce the coastal service in direct competition with Hurtigruten. In 2017, the Norwegian government chose to split the tender for the coastal road in order to create competition on the road. Hurtigruten continued in service while the newly formed Havila Kystruten AS also won a contract to build new ships for the route.
Havilah has been plagued with delays in the construction of the ships. The company recently set July 6 as the date for the maiden voyage of the first of its two vessels operating along the coastal route. A second sister ship is due to enter service shortly thereafter, while the contract provides for a total of four ships making the voyages.
Hurtigruten’s contract requires it to operate a reduced fleet of seven ships on the coast. The plan calls for re-establishing daily stopovers in each of the coastal towns when both companies operate and travel restrictions have been reduced.