Born on a pilot ship: Longyearbyen gets one-of-a-kind service vessel


There’s not much chance of missing its gleaming yellow cabin on a clear day, but the less-than-ideal days are when it’s most likely to be appreciated.

Longyerbyen’s new Elling Carlsen pilot boat, featuring a unique combination of Arctic rescue and emergency capabilities, was christened this week during a ceremony at the city’s harbor. While its primary purpose is ostensibly transporting maritime pilots to large ships, it can also be used for incidents such as oil spills, fires and rescues in sea ice.

“This is a huge, huge tool,” said  Roy Arne Rotnes, pilot master for the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s Troms and Finnmark regions.

Improving Svalbard’s emergency response capabilities has been a primary goal for regional and national officials in recent years due to increasing marine traffic from tourism, industrial, fishing and other vessels north of the mainland.

A large-scale emergency exercise last fall revealed that, while local personnel are well-trained, the archipelago’s remoteness and lack of advanced equipment are serious deficiencies.


Longyearbyen’s new pilot boat, the Elling Carlsen, features rescue, oil spill, towing, icebreaking and other emergency capabilities. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The 15-meter-long Elling Carlsen has a top speed of 43 knots and a cruising range of up to 400 nautical miles. It can also navigate through ten centimeters of ice and has heavy-vessel towing capabilities, which was demonstrated last week by towing The Governor of Svalbard’s new 3,700-ton Polarsyssel service vessel.

But the Elling Carlsen’s pilotage duties also reflect a recent change emphasizing safety, as all ships longer than 70 meters must   have a licensed  pilot with  Arctic  navigation  experience as of this year. The law has been phased in on larger ships since 2012.

The boat is named after Elling Carlsen, a Tromsø resident who in 1863 became the first captain to sail around Spitsbergen.