Cruise calls drop as port fees rise

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Norway’s summer cruise season is already well underway, but the number of cruiseships calling at Oslo will decline for the third year in a row. The cruise lines cite high fees for pilot and harbor services, along with the relatively long passage up the Oslo Fjord.

The number of cruiseships calling on Oslo this year is down by nearly 20 percent from last year. PHOTO:

The number of cruiseships calling on Oslo this year is down by nearly 20 percent from last year. PHOTO:

News broke last week that one of the world’s biggest cruiseships, Independence of the Seas, was arrested at Ålesund for failing to pay various harbour fees from last year. The vessel was not alone, as officials from the coastal authority Kystverk said many cruise lines are in arrears over harbour fees.

This year several have stopped calling on Oslo. Newspaper Aftenposten reported this spring that MSC Cruises, the large Italian cruise line, cancelled 25 of its 26 planned calls at Oslo and the total number of cruise calls scheduled has dropped from 159 last year to 130 this year.

That’s down from 173 cruise calls that brought 312,000 passengers into Oslo in 2011. Since then the numbers of calls and passengers have steadily declined, with cruise lines opting for cheaper ports in the Baltic countries or choosing to concentrate on the scenic western fjords and the far north if they sail to Norway.

Bergen, meanwhile, has reported an increase in cruise calls this year, with 332 scheduled that will bring an estimated 475,000 passengers. That’s up from 310 calls last year.

The tourism industry is divided, though, on the value of cruise calls, with many Norwegian hotel owners in the mountains claiming they’ve lost business to the cruise lines while food and beverage operators and retailers contend the cruise passengers don’t spend much money on land.

All the cruiselines face higher costs for fuel and are still feeling the impact of the euro crisis and economic problems in the US and Europe in recent years. That has cut the number of potential customers willing to pay higher fares. Per-Erik Winther of consulting firm Horwath, which specializes in the travel industry, said that MSC Cruises has been among those having to cope with economic trouble in its home country of Italy. Berglund