The start of Svalbard’s cruise season is canceled

Coronavirus has made spring cruises impossible, just as several purpose-built Arctic cruise ships were set to begin sailing.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - April 3, 2020
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The National Geographic Endurance — a ship purpose-built for polar navigation — was to have begun its maiden voyage Friday. The characteristic ship X-bow design is is used for increasing the fuel efficiency and safety of the vessel at sea. (Lindblad Expeditions via The Independent Barents Observer)

2020 was the year when many newly built luxury polar-class cruise ships were supposed to bring wealthy tourists to the Arctic. But the start of the season couldn’t be worse.

“We have suspended all voyages for our fleet and charters through April 30,” said Patty Disken-Cahill, press contact with Lindblad Expeditions, when asked by the Barents Observer about the maiden voyage of the cruise pioneer’s brand new ship.

Aimed for up to 126 passengers, the ship National Geographic Endurance was scheduled leave port in Longyearbyen on Friday, April 3 for a week-long voyage around Svalbard.

Three following voyages in April are also canceled.

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With most planes grounded around the world, national borders closed, restrictions on foreigners traveling to Svalbard and general fear of infections, the coronavirus has put an end to all cruise voyages in the Arctic for the start of the season.

Nobody can today say what will happen to the rest of the summer season for cruise passengers up north.

Not a single person in Longyearbyen has tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday. Sysselmannen, the Governor of Svalbard, wants to keep it that way and published updated requirements Thursday morning. Everyone arriving at Svalbard, either by boat or airplane, must stay quarantined for 14 days.

On the mainland, Norway’s borders are closed for non-Norwegian travelers. Going through Oslo or Tromsø airport is the only way to fly to Longyearbyen. In practice, no embarking cruise passengers have any chance of getting to Svalbard.

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Lindblad Expeditions’ four April voyages would have been a record-early start for expedition cruise ships sailing at Svalbard.

Hurtigruten originally scheduled its first northbound Svalbard voyage to start from Bergen on April 23. That tour is no longer listed. Hurtigruten, though, are still selling tours for the rest of the spring and summer season with the first departure from Longyearbyen with the ship Spitsbergen on May 5.

With 45 departures from Longyearbyen between May and September, Hurtigruten is the largest cruise operator in Svalbard waters.

26 expedition ships are scheduled for voyages to the northern and eastern icy waters of Svalbard in the period April to August 2020, according to a review by the Barents Observer of the cruise companies’ own itineraries.

Additional to Lindblad Expeditions and Hurtigruten, well-known expedition cruise-liners like Quark Expeditions, SilverSea, Ponant, Polar Quest, Oceanwide Expeditions, Poseidon, G Adventures, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Scenic, Aurora Expeditions, One Ocean Expeditions and Albatros Expeditions all have Svalbard cruises this season.

The above-mentioned cruise liners are only those sailing expedition-style ships with a maximum of a few hundred passengers. Larger cruise ships sailing the non-icy waters of western Spitsbergen, also travel to Svalbard, making shorter port calls in Longyearbyen.

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The economic loss for the Arctic cruise liner cancellations due to the coronavirus could be huge.

Disken-Cahill with Lindblad Expeditions would not comment on the financial impact.

“We are a public company and cannot comment on that,” she said.