Smoother sailing for Hurtigruten

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Norway’s famed coastal shipping line Hurtigruten won’t be facing competition for the rights to ply the route from Bergen to Kirkenes after all. Hurtigruten officials admit they’re relieved, and now want state support for the line to be almost doubled.

Norway's famed Hurtigruten service looks set to continue with its current fleet of vessels, but at a higher price. PHOTO: Hurtigruten

A potential French bidder, Veolia Transport, decided not to submit a bid for the route, complaining that it didn’t have enough time to pull one together or build a fleet even though state authorities extended the bidding deadline. Veolia had signaled its interest in the route earlier this fall and told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week that it still thinks its bid would have been more environmentally friendly.

Veolia also worried, though, that it couldn’t mount a fleet by January 2013, when the concession holder for the next eight years would need to launch or resume operations.

“We worked day and night but it became too much of a risk for us,” Kjetil Førsvoll of Veolia Transport Norge told DN. He said Veolia had planned to build new vessels using liquified natural gas (lng), which he claimed would have substantially lowered the emissions now generated by the current Hurtigruten fleet.

‘Enormous relief’
Olav Fjell, chief executive of Hurtigruten, called it an “enormous relief” that Veolia dropped out. The bidding process, he said, “had become much more exciting than we had hoped for,” he told DN. “Now there’s enormous relief within Hurtigruten and we think also along the entire coast, not least among all the tourism businesses. It’s only been in the past month and a half that folks began realizing that there could be an entirely different sort of service than we have today.”

Earlier press reports had noted that a new bidder might put smaller, catamaran-type vessels on the route and run them in segments, meaning that it would no longer be possible to board a vessel in Bergen and sail on it all the way to Kirkenes. Bidding regulations didn’t demand through-service on the same ship, or daily sailings, for example.

Hurtigruten’s current service, now set to continue, involves vessels that combine cruising, ferry and cargo service, capable of serving small ports of call along remote areas of Norway’s northern coast. The service is both historic and traditional, along with expensive.

Requesting more state support
That’s why Hurtigruten is asking for NOK 750 million in annual support from the state transport ministry to maintain current daily sailings year round, up from around NOK 380 million now. NOK 730 million will be needed, according to Hurtigruten’s bid, to maintain daily sailings during the summer season but reduce them to five days a week in the winter. A third alternative requests NOK 580 million, but then sailings would be cut to five days a week all year.

State officials say they will review the bid and have the right to negotiate even though there’s only one bidder. “The choice of alternatives must be seen in light of our use of resources,” Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa said in a prepared statement. “The goal is to have as good service as possible.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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