The ban on heavy fuel oil in the Svalbard region from 2015, combined with other challenges, has forced the industry to think on its feet.
CNNS: Erik Joachimsen
Cruise port Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen is without doubt the world’s northernmost destination for ordinary cruise ships. In recent years the maritime traffic to the Arctic region has been limited by environmental measures in various areas. From 2015 larger cruise ships using heavy fuel oil will not be able to call at the classic highlights in Ny-Ålesund and Magdalendafjorden, however ships that use light fuel will still be able to visit these attractions. This means that new thinking is required by everyone working for a positive development for the larger overseas cruises to Svalbard when it comes to sailing patterns and shore excursions.
The Tourism Manager at Svalbard Reiseliv, Ronny Brunvoll, says the tourism industry is meeting the challenges by looking at what is on offer in the Longyearbyen areas, such as Isfjorden (see map). This large fjord in the middle of Spitsbergen’s West Coast is not covered by the ban on heavy fuel oil. It extends far into Svalbard, surrounded by picturesque mountains and glaciers. Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Svalbard, with a population of 2,100 people working in mining, earth observation, tourism, trade or research, is situated in this fjord. Longyearbyen has a good airport and a port, which is undergoing positive development. The fjord is only ice-free, and thus accessible by ship, in the summer months.
The abandoned Russian settlement of Pyramiden at the head of Billefjorden, one of several arms of Isfjorden, is one of several ports of call now under consideration. “There are vulnerable relics of culture in this area, and naturally we want this to happen without any environmental impact, as the authorities require,” says the tourism manager.
Pyramiden, which in its time was the large shop-window of the Soviet state, may be reached via Isfjorden. The cruise lines can tender their passengers ashore using smaller boats so they can experience this town that remains virtually intact after being abandoned in a hurry in 1999.
Another Russian settlement is Barentsburg, which is some distance further out in the same fjord. There is still an active mining community here comprising of several hundred Russian and Ukrainian workers.
Terje Aunevik, the Managing Director of Longyearbyen’s largest port agency, Pole Position AS, is in no doubt that Isfjorden is an extremely good alternative, quickly rattling off a variety of advantages. “The fjord is a compact experience of Svalbard, and has many of the qualities one finds elsewhere in the archipelago, such as the spectacular glaciers, cultural relics and abandoned settlements. In addition, emergency preparedness for safety and the nvironment will always be close at hand.”
Spitsbergen Travel, one of the largest operators in Longyearbyen, coordinates both turnaround and shore excursion services for cruise lines of all sizes. “We noted that there was a perception that capacity was a major issue for large scale shore excursions in Longyearbyen,” says Anika Paust, International Sales Manager at Spitsbergen Travel. ” By improvbing the utilisation of transport options, implementing training courses for our guides, and exploring new options in Isfjorden, we can now offer a portfolio of shore excursions to well over 2000 passengers per day,” she says.
Terje Aunevik says that the Isfjorden concept was tested out on Phoenix Reizen’s “Albatross” in 2013, and that the feedback was extremely positive from the captain and passengers alike. In 2014 three of the cruise line’s ships will sail into Isfjorden: Albatros, Amadea and Artania.
The cruise lines can operate “slow cruising” in Isfjorden at a speed of less than 10 knots, enabling the passengers to relax and enjoy the spectacular nature and the cruise line to save both time and fuel costs.
The feedback from the pilots is also going in the same direction. They say that the captains on board are looking forward to sailing shorter distances when they have arrived in Spitsbergen. Sailing up the west coast is somewhat monotonous before you reach the destinations, while the weather can also be unstable. In Isfjorden one is guaranteed stable sailing conditions, while there is also a lot to see and experience. The many “hidden treasures” in Isfjorden will therefore be adapted for the cruise industry, thus providing cruise passengers an experience that is at least as good as before.
NO DECLIN E IN 2015
The Governor of Svalbard, the Kingdom of Norway’s representative in the archipelago, now has two brand new rescue helicopters at his disposal. These will have a very short flight time for any rescue operations throughout the entire Isfjorden area.
In order to be better equipped to develop the cruise destination Longyearbyen, the industry is now developing a cruise network that will primarily engage in product development and marketing. “We can’t see why Spitsbergen will become less attractive. Isfjorden has many of the same qualities as other attractions further up along the West Coast. Consequently, we want to prepare for the large cruise ships also in the future, but with slightly different framework conditions than before,” says an always optimistic tourism manager of one of the world’s outposts, Ronny Brunvoll.
The Port of Longyearbyen has now drawn up a new strategic port plan and will invest Euro 25 million in new infrastructure. Port Director Kjetil Bråten is optimistic on behalf of the cruise traffic to Longyearbyen: “We are increasing the capacity and making the necessary preparations for overnight calls to Longyearbyen. The fenders at the port are being improved so the ships will be more stable when they are docked. In addition, a new port terminal is being built, which will offer better facilities for the public. As part of the environmental measures, all “dirty goods” will now be moved to the quays closer to the airport, while passengers and containers will use the so-called “town quay” near the town centre. Advance bookings for overseas cruises to Longyearbyen in 2015 are ahead of the normal level, so we don’t see any trend that the ban on heavy fuel oil will adversely affect the tourism industry in Longyearbyen,” says Bråten.
So perhaps the ban of heavy fuel oils is-not so bad after all?
Heavy Fuel Oil Prohibition:
In 2009 the Norwegian government introduced new regulations that prohibits the use of heavy fuel oils on vessels sailing within the three largest national parks on Svalbard. A general traffic prohibition has also been introduced, at eight protected cultural heritage sites.
The objective of these restrictions is to avoid major pollution from heavy bunker oil in the event of an accident at sea and to limit the environmental damage caused if it should occur. In 2007, a corresponding prohibition of heavy fuel oils was introduced in protected areas on the eastern side of Svalbard.
This new regulation will mean that heavy bunker oil will be prohibited within most of Svalbard’s territorial waters.
Protected areas where vessels are not allowed to bring heavy fuel oil (red lines) or carry more than 200 passengers (green shaded areas). For the cruise industry, this means that Magdalenafjorden and Ny-Ålesund will not be available for the largest ships powered by heavy fuel oil. The tourism industry in Longyearbyen will now exploit the opportunities available in Isfjorden, where Barentsburg, Pyramiden, Billefjorden and Tempelfjorden offer good shorex opportunities and slow cruising (blue line).