Norway Extends Hurtigruten’s Limited Coastal Service Through June 2021

Hurtigruten mains Norwegian coastal service
Kong Herald is one of Hurtigruten's ships on the coastal route (Hurtigruten)

Published Mar 26, 2021 6:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

Faced with the ongoing COVID virus-related travel restrictions and the anticipated launch of a competitor’s service on the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten and the Government of Norway announced a short-term agreement to maintain the current coastal voyages. According to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications maintaining the service is critical for commerce and cargo transportation along the coast.

The ministry, which contracts for the service, agreed with Hurtigruten last fall to reduce the number of vessels sailing along the coastal route and especially for the northern ports between Bodo and Kirkenes. The service was reduced to every other day or even less frequently at some points due in part to the dramatic decline in passengers. The cargo service, however, remained vital to getting supplies to many of the isolated coastal communities.

Under the new agreement, the government is contracting with Hurtigruten to operate five ships sailing the coastal route from now until the end of June 2020. The ships will sail the full route from Bergen to Kirkenes in the north. With the five ships maintaining the service, the ministry said that it provides a level of predictability to the residents. Most ports will continue to receive a ship every other day.

The goal, however, 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 which will be restored if the travel restrictions are eased. Hurtigruten is hopeful that with the distribution of the vaccine growing more vacationers will be able to travel this summer.

“We are impatient to get into full operation. We know that the entire coast and tourism in Norway needs it,” said Hedda Felin, CEO of Hurtigruten Norway. “But 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.”

Hurtigruten is evolving as a company having 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 vessels from the coastal service as well as the newly built expedition cruise ships. Hurtigruten Norway will continue to operate the historic coastal service.

Starting in July, a second company also plans to introduce 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. Hurtigruten retained its service while the newly-formed Havila Kystruten AS also won a contract to build new ships for the route.

Havila has been plagued with delays in the construction of the ships. The company recently set July 6 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 thereafter while 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. The plan calls for restoring daily port calls at each of the coastal cities when the two companies are operating and the travel restrictions have been reduced.