A government commission in Norway recommended strengthening the regulation of cruise ships in the country, restricting winter voyages, and clamping down on cruises to Svalbard.
Prior to the COVID crisis, complaints soared about the number of big-sized passenger ships in the Norwegian Fjords and at small ports along the coastline. For the last couple of years, Norwegian waters have been free of cruise ships. However, the recent end to international travel restrictions brought the future of the large ships into focus once again.
In March 2019, Viking Sky sailed into the most tricky stretch of Norwegian waters during a storm with ~1,300 people onboard. The ship lost power and drifted close to shore, requiring emergency services to organize a rescue operation.
The accident caused outrage within Norway. It resulted in the ministry of justice forming a commission in order to review the accident and make recommendations. The commission’s findings were presented last week and showed how Norway’s search and rescue operations were not dimensioned to handle mass evacuations of large ships with thousands of people onboard.
The commission made a total of 66 recommendations to reduce the risk of incidents, including restricting ships more than 150-m long from sailing in severe winter weather, based on the height of waves and wind strength.
New regulations have been proposed to limit the environmental impact of cruise ship traffic in the Arctic ecosystem around Svalbard.
Because emergency preparedness is more difficult the farther north cruise ships sail, the report of the commission recommended more restrictions, including a capacity limit of "no more than 750 on cruise ships sailing in Svalbard waters."
Norway previously adopted a resolution to only allow zero-emission ferries and cruise ships to sail in its UNESCO World Heritage-listed fjords (Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord) by the mid-2020s.
How many of the recommendations are introduced remains to be seen.