In a disappointing scenario for hundreds of passengers on Hurtigruten's August 29 and September 12 sailings on Spitsbergen to the Russian Arctic, the expedition operator has been forced to cancel those voyages due to actions of the Russian government.
Both cruises were slated to sail roundtrip from Tromso, Norway, with a call at Murmansk, Russia, as well as sailing to remote Franz Josef Land.
Anne Marit Bjornflaten, Hurtigruten's senior vice president, sustainability and public affairs, based in Tromso, issued the following statement:
"MS Spitsbergen meets the requirements of the Polar Code and has permission to operate in this part of the Arctic. Despite this fact, and at the last minute, the final remaining permits from Russian Authorities have unexpectedly been denied and we have not been granted the necessary final sailing permission to Franz Josef Land.
"Hurtigruten has engaged in a long-term dialogue with Russian authorities about the planned expedition cruises. Their last-minute decision comes as a surprise, further highlighted by the very vocal strategy from Russian authorities to attract more cruise traffic and new operators in general – and Hurtigruten in particular – to Russian Arctic waters.
"Hurtigruten apologizes for the inconvenience this decision creates for our guests on these two voyages. We are currently in the process of reaching out to guests, offering compensations and alternative Hurtigruten expedition cruises."
Silversea Expeditions Voyage
Separately, Silversea Expeditions' Silver Explorer is currently sailing in waters atop Russia, and is slated to call at Murmansk later this month.
That expedition ship departed Nome, Alaska, on August 10 and is operating a Northeast Passage cruise, scheduled to end on September 5 in Tromso, Norway.
A spokesperson for Silversea gave this response when asked about any sailing adjustments: "No changes at this time."
First to report the problem with Hurtigruten's sailing permits was Klassekampen, a Norwegian media outlet (For Google Chrome users, click the link and click on "translate the page" to read the story in English).
The Norwegian media outlet noted that the region is very remote, inhabited only by Russian military members, and home to an air base and strategic defenses.
So, despite apparently a budding positive relationship between Hurtigruten and Russian authorities, upcoming military exercises may have taken priority.
Klassekampen said in its story that: "The rejection comes as Russia builds up military bases northeast of the Barents Sea and conducts a major military exercise along the coast of Norway."
Ahead for Hurtigruten?
Hurtigruten officials are clearly disappointed with the Russian government's action, but the line said in its statement: "Hurtigruten will continue the dialogue with Russian authorities in regards to future voyages to Franz Josef Land."
The line also has two cruises planned to Franz Josef Land and Murmansk in August 2020 and September 2020.