Norway mulls 200-passenger cap on Arctic cruises

Arctic landscape in Spitzbergen -Svalbard. View across the Krossfjord to the mountains and glaciers on the other side of the Fjord. Passenger ship is anchoring in the fjord

Norway is cracking down on cruise ships in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, proposing a ban on vessels carrying more than 200 people and prohibiting helicopter and submarine rides.

The Norwegian government has put forth a number of proposals to limit tourism’s impact on the area’s fragile environment in response to disembarkment quadrupling in the last decade.

According to the Norwegian Environment Agency, tourism regulations are scarce and the archipelago it is already endangered by global warming.

“Furthermore, it is suggested that the current limit of 200 passengers for ships sailing in the protected areas on East Svalbard should apply to all protected areas,” the agency, which was tasked with creating the proposals, said.

“By regulating where tourists can be put ashore in the protected areas, we can protect more nature against disturbances and damage from traffic,” Ellen Hambro, director-general of the Norwegian Environment Agency, said.

Meanwhile, Norway has blocked requests from Scenic Group for the use of Scenic Eclipse‘s submarine — which allows guests to experience marine life first hand — in Svalbard, according to Norwegian news outlet The Barents Observer.

The cruise line reportedly contacted the Governor of Svalbard requesting permission to use the feature in select potential diving spots, but was rejected due to the lack of knowledge around submarines effects on wildlife.

The Barents Observer also reported that helicopter rides, like those offered by Quark Expedition’s Ultramarine, would also not be permitted in Svalbard.

Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine

A spokesperson from Scenic Group told Travel Weekly the line communicates on its website, in marketing materials and in operational terms and conditions that helicopters and submarines are unable to operate in Svalbard.

“Scenic Group is committed to ensuring compliance and responsibility to preserve these pristine regions, unique natural wonders and wildlife are protected for future generations,” the spokesperson said. 

“We will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities in Norway and Svalbard, to operate within the current regulations in and around this beautiful region.”

The spokesperson also confirmed that Scenic would not be affected by the proposed passenger cap as Scenic Eclipse carries 200 passengers as is.

The Norwegian Environment Agency has also proposed that disembarkation in these areas only be granted in 42 locations, as well as a requirement to keep a distance of at least 500 meters from polar bears, and a ban on the use of drones in protected areas.

“Today’s regulations are not adjusted to the increase in tourism we have seen in Svalbard,” Hambro said.

“When tourism again increases after the pandemic, it is important to ensure that regulations to protect the increasingly vulnerable Arctic environment is in place.”

The agency said it will not limit tourism from increasing to pre-pandemic levels, nor will it limit the number of tourists allowed to visit Slavbard or how many tourism boats can visit per season.

Featured image source: iStock/SeppFriedhuber

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