Hurtigruten, Norway’s venerable shipping line that’s been carrying passengers and freight along the country’s northern coast for decades, may need to drop some of its ports. State officials say they want to maintain current service, but “not at any price.”
The line now calls at 34 ports along the coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, some of them tiny and remote. It has always relied on state funding, traditionally justified because it’s been a life-line of sorts for many of the small harbors.
But now Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa, ironically from the Center Party that’s best known for championing Norway’s outlying districts, has warned that some ports may need to be dropped because of budget considerations.
“The intention is clear, to maintain today’s service,” Kleppa told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “But not at any price. We’re talking about large amounts (of requested funding).”
She said the current state budget calls for NOK 300 million for its agreement with Hurtigruten, “and therefore we’re obliged to set some conditions in accordance with price.”
Reaction was swift and furious from local politicians in the areas now served by Hurtigruten and faced with cuts. “Cutting the Hurtigrute service would be like removing a state highway,” Svein Roar Jacobsen, the mayor of Sortland, told NRK.
Hurtigruten is in the midst of its high season, with tourists from all over the world on board the vessels that now resemble small cruise ships. The service runs all year round, 365 days a year, though, and passenger counts in the winter are far fewer than in the summer, which is what’s costly.
The line has recently redeployed some vessels during the low season, leased out one as accommodation for offshore workers in Australian waters, and promoted off-season cruising with special offers, including cruises aimed at seeing the Northern Lights in the winter. Hurtigruten returned to profitability last winter but still faces a need for cost-cutting efforts.