SHIP HAPPENS: Svalbard open to passenger cruises ‘under particularly stringent conditions’ starting June 15; Norway lifts travel limits for Nordic countries – but strict limits on Sweden


Svalbard is once again considered ship-shape, although it’ll be a trickle rather than a flood to start as as cruise ships with a maximum capacity of 500 passengers – and only carrying a maximum of half that – will be permitted to travel from the mainland to the archipelago starting Monday, Norway’s government announced Friday.

“It will take time before all cruise operations – as we knew them – can be resumed, but this cautious, phased and responsible beginning with expedition cruise tourism in Norway and Svalbard is a very important step for the expedition cruise industry and everyone affected by the halt in operations,” said Frigg Jørgensen, director of the Association of Arctic Cruise Operators, in a prepared statement. “This is a beginning that that gives hope for industry, and for other destinations.”

The announcement is among a series of gradual “reopening” steps following a nationwide quarantine and travel ban in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Svalbard, which enforced the toughest rules of all due to the area’s limited emergency and medical resources, reopened to domestic travel on June 1 along with the rest of the country. Norway also announced Friday travel restrictions between other Nordic countries as of Monday, but with strict limit for Sweden – which gained global notoriety for not enacting the virus prevention measures of neighboring countries – that essentially only allow travellers to transit through the country as directly as possible with no overnight stays.

The passenger ship guidelines apply to what are officially classified expedition cruises, referring to vessels with a capacity between 12 and 500 passengers. Among the many overall provisions are if any cases of COVID-19 are detected onboard ships must be able to redirect to Tromsø, due to strict measures still in place to try to keep Svalbard free of cases. Companies must submit operating plans and get approval from The Governor of Svalbard before embarking.

Tourism and other officials in Svalbard have written off any hope of receiving close to the more than 40,000 passengers who have arrived on mostly large international cruise lines, mostly during June and July. Norway’s government, while leaving the possibility of allowing other countries in northern Europe to visit beginning in July, has stated the borders will remain closed to most international travellers until at least Aug. 20.

Cruise operators allowed to travel to Svalbard, in addition to passenger limitations, will also need to comply with a roughly 100-page document detailing various COVID-19 related measures that was developed by a conglomerate
of government and industry entities, according to the cruise association.

The reopening date for smaller cruise was generally anticipated by industry, with Huritgruten and other companies announcing last month they were making contingency plans for resuming trips along the mainland coast and to Svalbard.