Norway’s famed coastal voyage line known as Hurtigruten has taken 14 of its 16 vessels out of service and cut its weekly sailings between Bergen and Kirkenes to a minimum. An additional 2,600 employees have been laid off, with the shipping line citing “an extraordinary crisis.”
Just two weeks after Hurtigruten’s chief executive Daniel Skjeldam had claimed that Corona virus scares weren’t hurting the passenger and cargo shipping line in Norway or the company’s expedition cruise operations, everything has changed.
“This is a completely extraordinary crisis that’s now hitting Norway, and it’s hitting Hurtigruten hard,” Skjeldam told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) late Wednesday. He added that it’s forced the shipping line, which already had announced the pending layoff of 200 employees on Monday, to resort to extraordinary and “drastic” measures.
Part of the national heritage
Hurtigruten has plied the Norwegian coast for more than 125 years, and long served as a lifeline to small communities without roads, trains or airports nearby. Vessels call twice a day on northbound and southbound routes, and have long been a familiar and welcome event. The pending cutbacks are the first in recent times, with nine out of Hurtigruten’s 11 ships in the coastal trade being taken out of service until April 19.
Since Hurtigruten is obligated to serve all the ports along its route, in return for state subsidies, it had to obtain special permission from the government to cut traffic so drastically. It will pare down operations to just two vessels serving the coast between Bodø and Kirkenes, “in order to ensure the most important cargo and passenger traffic between ports in Northern Norway.”
Hurtigruten’s expensive new expedition cruises in Norway, the Arctic and Antarctica on its newly built hybrid vessels will also be halted until April 28.
The company stressed that it hasn’t had any incidents of the Corona virus on board its vessels, but several of the harbours it uses have been closed or won’t let passengers board or disembark. Local and national quarantine regulations, combined with other restrictions, has also made crewing difficult.
Skjeldam was careful to note that all the current restrictions that have all but shut down Norway until at least late next week are part of “critical and important” national efforts to halt the spread of the Corona virus, “and we support them fully.”
“But they also hurt our operations directly and indirectly, and force us to make these changes,” Skeldam said.
“After 125 years of operation, we’ve learned from our past experiences weathering storms such as wars, recessions and outbreaks,” he added. “This is a setback for us, for the local communities and for our guests.” He claimed the setback “is only temporary,” and that he was confident Hurtigruten “and our explorers will hit the ground running as soon as we resume operations.”