Prime Minister Erna Solberg has joined many others who are frustrated and angry with Norwegian cruise and shipping line Hurtigruten, which is supposed to make daily calls at small ports all along the Norwegian coast. On Friday the crisis-ridden company announced it had to cut back to just two ships on its coastal route, after outbreaks of the Corona virus on its cruise ships and few bookings on its liner routes.
The cutbacks come just a day after a crushing report showed how Hurtigruten violated state health guidelines, and then suffered an outbreak of Covid-19 on its new ship MS Roald Amundsen during cruises to Svalbard in July.
Hurtigruten’s management had lobbied state officials hard to be allowed to resume cruising, and won their approval, only to violate quarantine rules for its low-paid crew. They were flown in to Norway from the Philippines and put immediately to work on the Roald Amundsen, without going through a mandatory 10-day quarantine period. Some crew members fell ill during the first of two cruises, and a total of 71 passengers and crew wound up testing positive for the Corona virus.
“The report (an internal investigation commissioned by Hurtigruten itsel) shows that they have made serious errors in their infection control on Hurtigruten,” Solberg told state broadcaster NRK after a press conference on Friday. “They had set up an infection control system that should have functioned, but then they needed to follow it.”
Company officials failed to do so, and investigators concluded that management took far too many risks when they resumed cruises in July. The company was also cited for poor communications both on board the vessel and with health authorities, and for utterly failing to protect both passengers and crew depite repeated claims that they would.
‘Don’t have a very high star’
Prime Minister Solberg and her health minister, Bent Høie, clearly feel betrayed by Hurtigruten officials who’d pressured them into allowing the cruises. “The health minister and I have said that Hurtigruten deserves all the criticism it’s getting,” Solberg told NRK. “It’s good that they’re trying to clean up after themselves, because they ended up demanding a lot of state resources after they failed to follow the rules.”
Trade Minister Iselin Nybø was also harsh in her assessment of Hurtigruten after its board’s and leaders’ apologetic press conference on Thursday: “Right now they don’t have a very high star, but it’s a strong brand and they have ambitions to rise up again,” Nybø said. “Time will tell whether they manage to do so.”
Laying up all ships but two
On Friday the company announced it was berthing three more ships on its Norwegian coastal service, and would only be sailing two of the 11 ships normally on the line between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north. That means the 34 ports along the route will only be served every fifth and seventh day, instead of every day.
“We can’t sail with empty ships,” Hurtigruten spokesman Øystein Knoph, noting that bookings have collapsed. “Like other players in the transport sector, we have to reduce capacity.” Only the MS Kong Harald and MS Polarlys will sail from October 2, meaning more layoffs of Hurtigruten crew.
All of Hurtigruten’s expedition cruise ships are also being laid up, with all international cruises cancelled until January at the earliest.