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EXPEDITION CRUISES: Norway leads way – reopening of Svalbard for expedition cruises

c: visitnorway

On June 12th, 2020, the Norwegian Government announced that expedition cruise operations will be allowed again in Svalbard with certain rigorous conditions.

The decision is based in part on thorough work on providing infection control guidelines for the expedition cruise industry which has been carried out by several governmental institutions and local stakeholders in collaboration with AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators. AECO’s executive director, Frigg Jørgensen is very pleased:

– We are thrilled that the Norwegian Government and local stakeholders are demonstrating determination, willingness and cooperation to open for expedition cruises in Svalbard again, which is a vital contributor to local tourism economies.

The infection control industry guidelines for expedition cruises in Svalbard builds on comparable general tourism industry guidelines for Svalbard, which the authorities earlier have prepared in close collaboration with Visit Svalbard, the local tourist office in Longyearbyen.

The reopening will take place within already existing national rules for entry and mandatory quarantine obligations which stipulate, for instance, that during a phased approach residents in Norway – and from June 15 residents from Nordic countries with some exemptions – can travel to Svalbard.

Strict measures

Both the authorities and the cruise industry take proper contamination protection measures very seriously and therefore very strict criteria will have to be met by expedition cruise operators during the first phase of reopening. Jørgensen clarifies:

– This includes, for example, a requirement of only carrying half of a vessel’s maximum passenger capacity, increased numbers of medical staff onboard and guest health certificates, among other requirements. Each cruise operator will need to develop and apply individual plans based on the infection control industry guidelines, which then will be considered by the Governor of Svalbard, says Frigg Jørgensen, and adds:

– 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. This is a beginning that that gives hope for industry, and for other destinations.

The comprehensive work that resulted in a solid infection control guideline document has been carried out in a close collaboration between the Ministry of Health and Care and the Ministry of Justice’s Department for Polar Affairs, while the Governor of Svalbard as chair of the Svalbard Preparedness Council has coordinated the work locally. With the involvement of the Longyearbyen Hospital, the University Hospital in Northern Norway, Longyearbyen Local Government, Longyearbyen Business Association and Visit Svalbard, AECO has put the infection control guidelines to paper.