Norway’s famed coastal shipping line Hurtigruten announced a major fleet renewal and expansion on Thursday, formally placing an order for up to four new passenger and cargo ships at a yard located right on the route it serves. The order was most welcome, at a time when Norwegian shipyards have been struggling because of the downturn in the oil and offshore industries.
While the dive in oil prices has hurt the country’s oil business, it has boosted the tourism industry. The weaker krone and ever-growing interest in Northern Norway and the country’s spectacular scenery have led to high occupancy rates on board Hurtigruten’s ships, also in the winter that used to be the off-season. Now it’s nearly as busy as the summer, and the shipping line needed more capacity.
It’s making its biggest investment in its 120-year history by ordering as many as four vessels from the Kleven Verft in the county of Møre og Romsdal. Each ship can carry 600 passengers and will sail along the coast and to other destinations in the Arctic and Antarctic.
The order is worth several billion kroner and a lifesaver for the Kleven shipyard. “This is economic restructuring in practice, from the oil and gas industry to other maritime sectors,” said the yard’s chief executive, Ståle Rasmussen. “Being able to build Hurtigrute ships is very welcome to us and our suppliers.”
The order calls for two ships for delivery in 2018 and 2019 with options for two more. Daniel Skjeldam, chief executive of Hurtigruten, said he was “proud” the contract landed in Norway, beating out foreign competition. “This is a milestone for us, for Norwegian tourism and the Norwegian shipping industry,” Skjeldam said.
Hurtigruten also plans to refurbish four of its existing vessels in the fleet that sails in and of 34 ports all along the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. A total of 12 shipyards bid for those jobs as well, and it also landed at Kleven’s yard at Ulsteinvik, outside Ålesund, where the line itself calls every day.
The orders are expected to provide jobs for as many as 200 workers and more for the suppliers.
Hurtigruten underwent a major fleet refurbishment in the 1990s but it’s been 10 years since its last vessel was ordered, the MS Fram that’s also specially built for Arctic waters.