Norway banned cruise ships from offering helicopter tours and submarine rides to the Svalbard Archipelago, which lies midway between the North Pole and Norway’s northern coast. The ban is due to concern about how tourism affects the fragile arctic environment.
The government published proposals to limit the number of guests on cruise ships sailing to protected Svalbard areas to 200 per ship and to confine the number of locations where they are allowed to disembark to 42.
A minimum distance of 500 m (1640 ft) from polar bears was imposed, and the use of drones was prohibited in some of the areas. Motorized shipping on sea ice was banned after March 1st out of consideration for polar bears and seals and a 5-knot speed limit (9 kph / 6 mph) was set close to bird colonies during the Arctic breeding season.
Norway denied a request from Scenic Group, which operates the Scenic Eclipse ship, to send out her submarine for passengers to explore marine wildlife. The company offers a 12-day Svalbard itinerary priced from EUR 13,300 per passenger (~USD 15700 / GBP 11360) onboard the Eclipse whose submarine (Scenic Neptune) can submerge up to 305 m (1000 ft) for sightseeing tours.
According to the Norwegian Environment Agency, the number of tourists visiting Svalbard had surged from 29,600 (1996) to 124,000 (2019). The most visited in the region is the Archipelago's largest island Spitsbergen.
The number of ships equipped with helicopters is currently low but expected to increase, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators revealed. These include the latest addition to the Quark Expeditions fleet - MS Ultramarine, which boasts two twin-engine helicopters and is considered a “game-changing vessel designed to go beyond the predictable polar expedition”.