Sharp increase in cruise ships in polar areas

polar bear cruise shipPolar bear shot by cruise ship crew on Svalbard. Photo: Gustav Busch Arntsen/Sysselmannen på Svalbard/handout / NTB scanpix

A marked increase in cruise traffic in polar areas

In five years, the number of cruise tourists to Svalbard and the polar regions has increased by a third. Another 25 expedition ships are scheduled to be added to the fray.


In total, 25 cruise ships, designed to sail in icy and vulnerable areas, will be delivered to different cruise operators over the next three years. This according to the interest organization for cruise operators in the Arctic, AECO. The expected increase in activity comes after a period when the number of expedition passengers rose from 11,500 in 2012 to 18,000 passengers last year, reports NRK.

Among those who have ordered new ships, is the shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, who recently had to endure criticism after a polar bear on Svalbard was shot and killed by the crew on one of their ships. The shipping company has placed orders for three cruise ships designed for expeditions in polar regions.

The Norwegian company Hurtigruten, which already arranges expedition cruises to Svalbard, has ordered two hybrid ships.

– We feel confident that we are able to act responsibly. It is nevertheless clearly necessary to look at the regulations, regardless of whether it is a popular demand or not. Because this is a vulnerable environment. We believe it is possible to operate responsibly in Svalbard with the right skills and competent crew, says Environmental Manager in Hurtigruten, Jørn Henriksen.

Strict restrictions

Cruise traffic on Svalbard is subject to strict restrictions, and in the most vulnerable areas, there is a total ban.

The Governor’s office (Sysselmannen) has already seen a tendency for the number of rule violations to increase and is worried that it will be difficult to convey the rules to everybody when there are even more ships from several actors in the region.

– The more players you have, the harder it is to relay the message to everyone, says Environmental Manager at Svalbard’s Governor office, Morten Wedege.

Sysselmannen is the highest civil authority on Svalbard and has police jurisdiction on the group of islands.

There is also a growing worry related to how to rescue cruise passengers from a shipwreck in the freezing cold conditions.


© NTB scanpix / #Norway Today