Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa announced Wednesday that Norway’s famed coastal shipping line Hurtigruten will continue to call at all its 34 ports between Bergen and Kirkenes, all year long. The “status quo” service comes only after Kleppa agreed to boost taxpayer support for the historic line that’s among the country’s top tourist magnets.
Lengthy negotiations between the Norwegian government and Hurtigruten concluded with the state agreeing to buy transport services from the line for an average of NOK 640 million per year over the next eight years. That’s up 70 percent from the current agreement that’s been in effect in recent years, but lower than Hurtigruten’s initial demand of NOK 750 million a year for the next contract period that runs through 2019.
Both Kleppa and Hurtigruten officials claimed they were satisfied with the deal, which will ensure ongoing service to remote areas of Norway’s long coastline. Three alternatives had been on the table, with Hurtigruten demanding the NOK 750 million per year for the same daily, year-round service as today, service only five days a week during the winter season for NOK 730 million or service only five days a week all year round for NOK 580 million.
Kleppa, who hails from a political party that champions support for outlying areas in Norway, clearly wanted to avoid service cuts but managed to get Hurtigruten to agree to a lower price to maintain it. Hurtigruten Chairman Trygve Hegnar, the media and former cruiseship owner who now ranks as Hurtigruten’s major shareholder, told reporters the lower price was offset by earlier implementation of the new deal and “other elements in the package.”
Tourism industry officials had been anxious for the state and Hurtigruten to come to terms, and advocated the ongoing seven-day-a-week sailings to all of Hurtigruten’s ports on the routes that head north from Bergen on the west coast of Norway and south from Kirkenes in the far north. Hurtigruten’s agreements with land-based tourism operators, like those offering “king crab safaris” and other activities along the coast, generate an estimated 200 jobs and NOK 145 million in local revenues that would have been threatened if service was cut.
Hurtigruten has plied the Norwegian coast for generations and is considered part of the national heritage, as well as often being billed as among the most scenic voyages in the world. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) recently announced plans to mount cameras on one of the line’s vessels and broadcast a five-day voyage from Bergen live in mid-June.
Hegnar holds 28.3 percent of the shares in Hurtigruten, which ended as the sole bidder for the line after Veolia Transport of France dropped its bid last year. Hurtigruten’s share price jumped on the news of the pact after it was announced Wednesday morning.