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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Cruise crackdown gets underway

Thousands of tourists were once again streaming off a large cruise ship in Oslo on Tuesday, but no longer from prime berthing space in the Norwegian capital’s inner harbour. The cruise ships will soon have to cut their emissions while in port, too.

Passengers could be seen (at right) streaming off the large cruise ship Celebrity Silhouette at Filipstad in Oslo on Tuesday. Most all large cruiseships have been banned from Oslo’s inner harbour since June 1, because of how they dominated the landscape. ALL PHOTOS: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

After years of complaints, the largest cruise ships calling on Oslo are no longer being allowed to block views both of and from the historic Akershus Fortress and Castle. There are a few exceptions to the stricter controls, but the vast majority of the roughly 150 cruise ships now sailing in and out of Oslo have been relegated to areas outside the city center, like above, at Filipstad.

The restrictions come after debate and criticism over how the large ships overwhelmed the inner harbor while sailing in, tying up and sailing out again. They’ve been described as “floating high-rise hotels,” often towering above the buildings at Oslo’s exclusive Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen areas.

This large German cruise ship has made frequent but controversial calls in Oslo in recent years, like here in May. Critics think cruising is far from being climate friendly, or “green.”

The large ships had been allowed to tie up alongside Oslo’s well-preserved fortress and castle from the 1300s, meaning that visitors stolling along the fortress walls could no longer see views down the fjord, staring instead into cruiseship balconies on the 10th deck or higher. Those sitting at popular outdoor bars and restaurants across the harbour at Aker Brygge, meanwhile, could no longer see the castle and fortress.

Cultural organizations that mount annual outdoor theater performances and concerts inside the walls of the fortress, meanwhile, were also frustrated by the cruise ships’ public address systems, music and horn blasts upon departure. One of the Disney cruise ships had a habit of blaring the first bars of the old song “When you wish upon a star,” ruining the final act of a play in progress when the shiip sailed, while Princess Cruises’ ships often blasted the theme song from the old TV series “The Love Boat” – to the delight of passengers, perhaps, but not all those on shore.

Large cruiseships docking alongside the Akershus Fortress and Castle were often higher than the historic buildings themselves.

The cruise ships also closed off large portions of what’s otherwise a popular area for walking, fishing and outdoor dining while in port, and cast shadows as well. Now they’ve been moved to the Filipstad harbour area, just across the water from Tjuvholmen and west of downtown, and to the Revierkai behind Akershus at Bjørvika, home of the new MUNCH museum, the Opera House, housing and commercial developments.

Since cruise berthings are often planned long in advance, a few of the ships will still have to be allowed to tie up in front of Akershus because of overbookings. “There are around eight or nine ships that we didn’t manage to move (to Filipstad or Revierkai) between June and September,” Einar Marthinussen of the Oslo Harbour authority told newspaper Aftenposten last month. He confirmed that total capacity for cruise berthings will be reduced to between 70 and 100 per year: “We’re working hard to make cruise sustainable.”

Instead of being able to enjoy the view down the Oslo Fjord, fortress visitors at Akershus found themselves staring at the balconies of a cruise ship, most of which usually docked in the morning and didn’t sail until late afternoon or evening. Those strolling along the waterfront at Aker Brygge (the renovated shipyard area across the water from the Akershus Fortress) could no longer see the fortress when large cruise ships were in port.

The sustainability efforts in Oslo include projects and regulations that will also force vessels to turn off their diesel-fuelled engine systems from 2025 and hook up to electricity systems being installed on the docks. That’s also planned at other ports in Norway, to reduce emissions from the visiting ships.

Oslo retailers and restaurants aren’t expected to lose much business as cruise capacity is reduced, since cruise passengers usually eat and drink on board. Surveys over the years have indicated they don’t spend much in local shops, either. “A few shops rely on cruise tourists, but we’ve never been able to confirm that they leave much money in Oslo,” said Jon Anders Henriksen, commercial director of the retailers’ association Oslo Handelstandsforening.

Cruise ships in Oslo will also eventually have to plug in to electric power from land in order to cut their emissions while in port.

More cruise restrictions loom elsewhere in Norway, not least in the scenic Geiranger Fjord, where vessel emissions have polluted the air and passengers have overrun small communities along the fjord. Only emissions-free vessels will be allowed from 2026 on the fjord that’s a UN World Heritage Site, although vessels can use bio-gas during a transition period. Cruise ship owners may also have to meet tougher Norwegian rules regarding wages and working conditions if at least half of a scheduled cruise takes place in Norway.

Some local authorities are objecting to the new state demands, arguing that the cruise business has become important even if it only amounts to souvenir sales or sightseeing services. Kristian Qvigstad, who runs several local sightseeing boats in downtown Oslo, thinks the cruise crackdown can cut ticket sales at local museums and force more use of bus transport for cruise passengers. He wrote recently that he doesn’t think the cruise ships either pollute the harbour or unleash too many people, claiming that the arguments against cruise ships in Bergen, Geiranger or even Venice don’t apply in Oslo.

A temporary “tax-free” shop has been set up for cruise passengers at Filipstad this summer. City plans call for the entire Filipstad area, meanwhile, to be redeveloped into housing, commercial and recreational use. It may no longer be able to accommodate cruise ships either, forcing further reduction in the numbers of cruise ships docking in the capital.

In Bergen, meanwhile, authorities are also trying to crack down on cruise traffic. “As one of Europe’s biggest cruise destinations, it can mean a lot globally if we say ‘thanks but no thanks’ to these floating cities that sail all over and clearly are not sustainable,” Thor Haakon Bakke, candidate for city government leader in Bergen for the Greens Party, told newspaper Bergens Tidendene last month.

The Greens want Bergen to be “cruise-free” from 2027 and use their harbour areas “for something entirely different.” Bakke wants to pull down fencing around cruise docks and open the waterfront area up for parks, residences, business or swimming.

Controversial plans are underway to build a large new cruise harbour at Eidsvika on Askøy, west of Bergen, to relieve pressure on the city itself. Greens Party politicians are objecting to that, too, on the grounds it would destroy the natural surroundings. Debate is running high, reported newspaper Klassekampen on Tuesday, with the Greens asking other parties to clarify their position on plans for a new cruise harbour. Neither the Conservatives nor the Progress Party have come to any conclusions, while Labour is waiting until a hearing round ends.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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