Blow for expedition cruises as Svalbard announces new restrictions for ships

Svalbard new cruise restrictions

By Kelly Ranson and Linsey Mc Neill

15/02/2024
Home » Blow for expedition cruises as Svalbard announces new restrictions for ships

Expedition cruise lines could be forced to amend Arctic cruises due to tough new regulations being introduced in Svalbard.

The Norwegian Government is to limit the number of cruise passengers that can visit parts of the archipelago to protect its wildlife and environment.

From 1 January 2025, only cruises ships with a maximum 200 guests will be allowed to visit protected areas of Svalbard, including its national parks and nature reserves.

Also, the number of landing sites within the protected areas has been reduced to just 43 out of a total of more than 200 in the whole of the archipelago.

The amendments to the environmental regulations also limit the number of cruise passengers who can go ashore at a single time to no more than 39 (plus one guide for every 12 passsengers) at around a dozen protected sites.

They also include a ban on drones, breaking fast ice, and ships will need to stay at least 150m from walruses and limit speeds to 5 knots when within 300m of walrus rest sites.

The Norwegian Government is also proposing further, yet to be approved, restrictions to protect polar bears, including a requirement for ships to keep a distance of at least 300m from July to the end of February and at least 500m from March to the end of June.

The Association of Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) said: “In short, we are disappointed with the policy process and the resulting regulations. 

“Despite a thorough consultation process, where a united industry has worked on providing solutions in line with the common goal of protecting the vulnerable wildlife and wilderness of Svalbard, we are now presented with measures which not only limit operations, but also will put a severe strain on the remaining areas open for shore-landings. 

“We will however now make a more thorough assessment of the decisions announced and prepare information for AECOs members so we can adapt accordingly.”

Larger cruise ships tend to dock in Longyearbyen in Svalbard, which is not a protected area, but some lines have ships that cruise through or land in other parts of the archipelago so might need to adapt their itineraries since much of Svalbard’s land and sea area is protected. 

Karen Strand, VP Expedition Development of HX (formerly Hurtigruten) said: “Our team of expedition experts await further updates from AECO, and we will work together to adapt our itineraries where necessary. 

“Currently, from our fleet of six expedition ships, only MS Fram and MS Spitsbergen operate circumnavigation sailings of Svalbard with a maximum capacity of 200 guests. 

MS Maud sails West Spitsbergen as part of two longer Arctic expeditions, which also explore Iceland and Greenland, with a maximum capacity of 500 guests.”

HX has not yet confirmed if MS Maud will need to change its itinerary or capacity.

Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Andreas Bjelland Eriksen told High North News: “Climate change together with increased activity has resulted in a great pressure on the vulnerable Arctic wildlife and nature in Svalbard. We are now tightening the environmental regulations in Svalbard to strengthen the protection of flora and fauna.”

Expedition Cruise Network (ECN) CEO Akvile Marozaite said: “While this will somewhat limit expedition cruise tourism in the archipelago, there are great Arctic experience alternatives to Svalbard to be had in Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and Iceland.”

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