Hurtigruten gets new coastal rival

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Norway’s famed coastal shipping route will be shared by two operators from 2021, as part of a move by the state transport ministry to stimulate competition. The venerable shipping line Hurtigruten will be joined by newcomer Havila Kystruten AS, with each operating seven and four ships respectively on the subsidized 11-day round-trip routes with daily departures from Bergen.

Hurtigruten’s vessel NordNorge, shown here leaving Bodø on a Sunday afternoon in January, will be joined on the coastal route by new vessels from another Norwegian shipowning company, Havila, from 2021. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen, who announced the upcoming changes in how the coastal route is operated, noted how it represents a lot of “national romanticism and nostalgia” while it continues to serve as an important transport system that also has become a major part of Norway’s tourism industry.

Hurtigruten claimed it will continue to operate daily departures from Bergen regardless, “also on the days we don’t have a state contract,” its CEO Daniel Skjeldam told reporters on Friday. Its vessels are enormously popular with high occupancy year-round and it intends to continue offering voyages along the coast between Bergen and Kirkenes with its full fleet.

The coastal route system involves state licensing and subsidy, with the state essentially buying shipping service at a cost of several hundred million kroner a year to ensure that even small, unprofitable ports along Norway’s long coastline receive transport service. Hurtigruten has long had the concession to operate all the ships serving the entire route, with vessels sailing north from Bergen towards Kirkenes every day of the year and obligated to stop at 34 ports during the 11-day round-trip voyage, carrying both passengers, vehicles and other cargo.

Voyages along the Norwegian coast attract tourists from around the world, but the shipping service remains an important part of the country’s transport network in remote northern areas for both people and cargo. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The state transport ministry recently decided to split up the 11 daily routes so that other players could also participate. Three contracts were put up for bid and in the end, two were granted to Hurtigruten and one to Havila, which is part of the Havila Shipping company based in Fosnavåg in Sunnmøre that’s long been active in the offshore industry.

Havila and Hurtigruten will now alternate departure days for the entire route from Bergen to Kirkenes. Given Hurtigruten’s plans to continue sailing every day itself, there’s likely to be two departures on the days Havila also plies the route. Hurtigturen won’t be obliged to stop at all ports when it’s not operating a licensed route, however, and likely will offer more pure cruising instead.

Additional passenger and ticketing information will become available as the new system is fine-tuned, according to Solvik-Olsen, but he was confident the two shipping lines will continue to offer “a good transport service,” not just for “the folks living in the districts along the coast” who still rely on Hurtigruten for transport, but also for all the tourists who sail on Hurtigruten.

Solvik-Olsen stressed how the vessels sailing from 2021 will also meet much stricter demands for low emissions. Havila is building four new vessels to serve the route, while Hurtigruten will be refitting seven of its vessels to meet the stricter emissions requirements.

Solvik-Olsen said the subsidy paid out by the state to ensure service to outlying areas remains “roughly the same as what we’re paying today.” Hurtigruten alone will continue to serve the entire route through 2020 with the new contracts granted to both Hurtigruten and Havila running from 2021 through 2030.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund