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Parts of Norway’s remote Svalbard archipelago will be off limits to the majority of cruise passengers from next January.
Larger cruise lines will be unable to visit the pristine wilderness area from 2015 when a heavy fuel oil ban (HFO) comes into effect. The ban is similar to that which came into effect in Antractica in 2011, forcing several cruise lines to cancel itineraries there.
The HFO ban has existed in most protected areas of Svalbard since 2007 and 2010. Cruise lines were given five years to adapt to the lighter marine diesel fuel DMA, and offered a two-year reprieve on sailings to Ny-Alesund and Magdalena Bay. But heavy oil remains the dominant fuel and the Ny-Alesund and Magdalena exception will be terminated on January 1, prohibiting ships from sailing within the borders of the national parks on the east and west coast of the archipelago.
Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Silversea, MSC Cruises, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Fred Olsen and Saga all offer itineraries that feature Svalbard. Future visits to the area will consist mainly of smaller expedition vessels that use small ribbed inflatables to ferry passengers close to glaciers and wildlife and whose vessels already comply with the new regulation. These include MS Fram, operated by Hurtigruten .
Saga will make what it is calling “historic” final ports of call at the remote outpost of Ny-Alesund and glacier-choked Magdalena Bay during its Arctic Explorer cruise, which departs from Dover in June. On the ship’s last voyage more than 400 mammals were seen in Magdalena Bay, including blue and humpback whales.
Saga says that weather permitting crew will set up “the world’s most northerly bar” using a temporary landing pontoon for guests who want to take a tender to the fjord’s isloated beach.
Beverly Glick, a cruise writer for the Daily Telegraph who visited Magdalena Bay on Saga Pearl II last year said she had mixed feelings about the news that cruise passengers will no longer be able to visit the prisitine spot.
“I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to have experienced this Arctic wilderness. But this is not our domain: it belongs to the polar bear, the Arctic fox and the Arctic tern. This was brought home to me last year when I visited Magdalena Bay on Saga Pearl II. Armed rangers had been tracking a female polar bear all morning. She decided to approach the beach as the final group of passengers made their way back to the landing stage. If she had come any closer the rangers would have shot to kill.
“I also witnessed a bald-headed man being dive-bombed by a territorial Arctic tern. We were intruders – that much was clear.”
In an open letter to cruise lines Svalbard Tourism has outlined plans to facilitate longer stays in Longyearbyen (the largest settlement and administrative centre of Svalbard) and Isfjorden (the Ice Fjord). These include guided glacier walks, hiking and boat trips more flexible opening times at shops, museums and galleries to encourage overnight stays.