Cruiseship spill in Geiranger raises environmental concerns

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With scores of cruiseships sailing into Norway’s scenic Geiranger Fjord all summer long, it was perhaps just a matter of time before one of them had an accident. On Sunday, a Bahamas-registered vessel leaked diesel fuel into the pristine waters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and environmental groups quickly sounded the alarms.

The cruiseship Spirit of Adventure , controlled by the UK-based Acromas Holdings Ltd, was in the midst of a 14-day cruise along the Norwegian coast from Dover when its own crew noticed the spill during its call at Geiranger. Now the vessel’s owner faces a heavy fine and mandatory inspection by Norwegian maritime authorities at Bergen, reports newspaper Sunnmørsposten .

Local residents woke up Sunday morning to the smell of diesel and oil in the air, but officials couldn’t say how much spilled into the fjord. Four emergency vessels took part in clean-up efforts all day, trying to skim the oil off the water and pump it up into tanks.

Operations leader Magne Tjønning of the Sunnmøre Police District said oil washed ashore farther out in the fjord. Police boarded the Spirit of Adventure , a relatively small cruiseship with capacity for 352 passengers and 170 crew. The vessel was held back during clean-up efforts but later allowed to sail on to Bergen, where it would be subject to regulatory inspection. It had been scheduled to sail on to Stavanger before returning to Dover and embarking on a new cruise back to Bergen.

The harbor master in Stranda told Sunnmørsposten that the vessel’s crew participated in clean-up efforts, and blamed the spill on an “overflow” in the engine. Police, state pollution authorities and the coast guard were alerted around 9:30am Sunday.Heavy traffic and pollution concerns

More than 150 cruiseships call every year at Geiranger which is on the United Nations’ list of so-called “world heritage sites” and one of Norway’s major tourist attractions. The cruise traffic earlier has raised concerns because of emissions that have polluted the air inside the narrow fjord. Police said a spill was “unusual.”

That didn’t comfort environmental groups including Bellona, which worries that control of the cruiseship traffic is deficient. Bellona noted that another vessel leaked diesel into the fjord just 10 days ago, but failed to report it.

“We want to make sure the vessel owners are punished,” said the skipper of Bellona’s own vessel Kallinika .

Local officials including fire chief Steinar Belsby are worried about the consequences of all the cruiseship traffic on flora and fauna in the area, while Stranda Mayor Frank Sve told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he wants more local authority to regulate the traffic, and adjust harbor fees based on environmental risk. At present the fees are set by the state, which also has barred local townships from banning vessels into the fjords.

The Spirit of Adventure’s officers were to be presented with a fine and bill for the clean-up estimated at around NOK 1 million, and the vessel would be subject to a port-state control at Bergen.

“This is a fairly comprehensive examination, after a spill has occurred,” Bente Amandussen of the Maritime Directorate told Sunnmørsposten . “We will investigate why the spill occurred, and whether the vessel can continue to sail along the coast.”