The northern coast of Norway was once so busy and dependent upon marine traffic that it was known as the country’s ‘highway number one’. Many communities were not even linked by road and depended upon the ferry services offered by Hurtigruten (which translates as ‘fast route’), a company founded in 1893 by government contract to improve communications between Trondheim and Hammerfest, with various calling points in between.
By the 1980’s, improvements in road infrastructure and air services turned Hurtigruten’s focus towards tourist services, in particular providing expeditions for the more adventurous cruise goer. “We are polar pioneers, pushing the boundaries,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam proudly proclaims. “We grew up with all the great Norwegian explorers such as Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen. We bring you closer to places that others can’t go. We are the real thing. We’re about authenticity.”
While the hyperbole might be a little excessive, Hurtigruten does have a claim to being the biggest exploration cruise company in the world, travelling to 30 countries and 250 destinations, including tours to Antarctica. Once considered a niche subsector of the cruise industry, expeditions have surged in popularity in recent years, thanks to a combination of environmental, commercial and cultural factors.
From offshore to expeditions
Much as the thawing of ice in the polar regions has inevitably led to commercial operators seeking to use it to their gain through the opening up of previously unnavigable sea routes, so too have cruise operators sought to capitalise upon the allure of those regions to tourists. But one of the more interesting consequences has been the opportunities it has presented to northern European shipyards, faced with uncertain futures following the slump in demand for offshore vessels, that have found their expertise in demand for constructing the smaller, more robust, polar-capable vessels suitable for expedition cruises.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than Norway’s north-west coast. In 2016, Fincantieri subsidiary Vard secured a booking for four expedition ships from French operator Ponant from its Søviknes yard (the hulls being constructed at a sister plant in Romania) between 2018 and 2020, which was consolidated by orders for two sister ships and an LNG-propelled cruise icebreaker, even before it delivered the first ship, Le Lapérouse, in June last year. Elsewhere, American operator Lindblad Expeditions turned to Ulstein in ordering the National Geographic Endurance in 2017, with delivery set for 2020 from Ulstein’s Ulsteinvik facility.
Meanwhile in 2016 Hurtigrutenentered into an agreement with Kleven Maritime for the construction of two new Explorer Class vessels, with the option for two more, at the Kleven Verft shipyard in Ulsteinvik. The following year, with Kleven on the brink of bankruptcy, Hurtigruten led a consortium which took a 40% stake in the yard, before becoming full owners in 2018.
MS Roald Amundsen
The lead vessel in Hurtigruten’s new explorer class, MS Roald Amundsen, is currently undergoing completion at Kleven, alongside its sister ship MS Fridtjof Nansen. Although originally scheduled for delivery in July 2018, production delays mean it will now embark on its inaugural voyage, from Lisbon to the Atlantic islands, in May this year. It will follow that tour by recreating its pioneering namesake’s journey through the Northwest Passage. Fridtjof Nansen will join it in service from Q3 this year, while an as-yet-unnamed sister is due for delivery in 2021.
The explorer vessels are intended to represent the cutting edge of sustainable marine technology and boast the capability to take passengers into remote and secluded areas that would be impregnable to larger ships. Designed by Rolls-Royce and Norwegian yacht designer Espen Øino, the vessels have a length of 140m, width of 23m and will be capable of carrying up to 530 passengers (265 cabins, with crew bringing the total capacity to 681 persons).
In particular, the vessels feature a “revolutionary” hybrid-powered fully electric propulsion system, powered by both fuel oil and batteries and capable of running almost silently. The propulsion system includes two Azipull thrusters, powered by a permanent magnet (PM) motor, plus two tunnel thrusters.
Uniquely for cruise ships, the main power for Roald Amundsen and its sisters will be provided by 4 x Rolls-Royce Bergen B33:45 medium-speed engines. Originally launched in 2014, the B33:45 is said to offer 20% increased power compared to its predecessor, delivering the same output with fewer cylinders.
The hybrid power system consists of 2 x 685kWh (1,750kW output each) batteries capable of providing full propulsion power for periods of 15-30 minutes. Significant additional storage capacity has been built into the engine room design with a view to making more extensive use of battery power in the future as the technology improves.
The IMO NOx Tier III emissions limit will be maintained by a selective catalytic reduction system. Overall, the hull design and hybrid technology is reckoned to cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by approximately 20%, amounting to some 3,000mt per annum. Other features include the use of Rolls-Royce’s Unified Bridge concept. The vessel has a service speed of 15knots.
Although engines for the explorer vessels will run on MGO, Hurtigruten’s Skjeldam explains that the decision not to run on notionally greener fuels such as LNG or LPG was based on the current lack of bunkering infrastructure. “The way we construct them now is the most environmentally friendly way of operating ships in these waters.”
Notably, in November 2018, Hurtigruten did announce a long-term strategy to power its vessels using fossil-free liquified biogas (LBG) produced from dead fish and other organic waste. By 2021, the company plans to operate at least six of its 17-strong fleet with a combination of LBG, batteries and LNG.
This commitment to sustainability saw Hurtigruten become the first cruise company to ban single use plastics in July 2018. “This was very much an internally driven project,” says Skjeldam, noting that when he visited ships, the crew were conducting their own calculations on how much plastic could be saved across the entire fleet.
Education is seen as an important part of the Hurtigruten message. Guests are brought ashore to collect plastic on the beaches in order to give them an insight into the damage being wrought onboard the world’s most sensitive areas.
The heart of the vessel onboard Roald Amundsen and its sisters will be an ‘edutainment’ science centre, where guests and crew meet to develop a deeper understanding of the areas the ship is exploring, getting hands on with the latest technology and equipment, using science stations, navigating underwater drones and listening to the sound of whales.
“We are putting a lot of effort into being a corporate partner with all the big institutes and universities for science projects,” says Karin Strand, a field operations manager for Hurtiguruten, highlighting a recent voyage during that dropped off two scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute researching sustainable krill fisheries in the Antarctic. “My personal dream is that one day we can publish research papers based on science onboard our ships. Like a floating university.”
However, those with a preference for relaxation are well catered for, with various onboard expedition equipment for excursions such as kayaking and explorer boats for safe landing in remote areas. There is also a choice of three restaurants, Scandinvian designed interiors, hand-picked art from HM Queen Sonja’s art foundation and a 17.5m LED screen at the centre of the ship, where lectures and transmissions from outside the ship will be broadcast live.