Cruise traffic in Bergen should never return to what it was

Eliminating emissions from cruise ships will constitute a significant contribution to making the city fossil-free

a cruise ship and supply boat in Bergen harbor

Photo: Mari Hommedal/NTB
A cruise ship and a supply boat docked in Bergen’s harbor before the pandemic.

Bergen, Norway

Cruise traffic along the Norwegian coast is at a standstill. Until further notice, all sailings have been canceled. The reopening after the pandemic may come no earlier than [now in] July, and the fleet will then spend six to eight weeks getting back into normal operation. Then the season will be, for all practical purposes, over. The cruise year 2021 will be like 2020—dead quiet.

Will cruise traffic ever reach the same level as before the pandemic? Several factors seem to indicate that this may not happen. Cruise tourism has been shown to be susceptible to the spread of infection.

Although the coronavirus pandemic is now receding, the experiences of the last year and a half and the possibility of new infections flourishing may dampen both the desire to travel and to invest.

At least as important is that cruise ships be banned in the World Heritage Fjords from 2026 on if they are not emission-free in port and on their way in and out of the fjords. The short-term consequence may be that the ships will have to sail on by.

But since most of the leading Norwegian cruise ports have set the same goals for themselves as the World Heritage Fjords, including the Port of Bergen, the future of cruise tourism in Norway depends on switching to emission-free sailing for longer distances.

The historic city council decision from October 2018 set goals for the World Heritage City of Bergen that are just as stringent emission restrictions as those of the World Heritage Fjords. It is only four and a half years until 2026, and in Bergen, together with the neighboring municipalities along the entry route, it has been made clear that it is only emission-free vessels will be permitted entry.

Zeroing out what has been a significant source of emissions for greenhouse gases by 2026 will also make an important contribution to the goal of making Bergen fossil-free by 2030.

In Bergen, a maximum of three daily calls and 8,000 passengers a day are now the norm. At the same time, Europe’s largest on-shore power plant for cruise ships, and five brand new connection points for a total of three ships are ready to be put into use at the Skolten cruise ship dock.

When the industry gradually awakens from its slumber, the very first requirement must be that only ships that use the on-shore power plant be permitted to dock and that other ships be waved on.

Throughout the year, the municipality will evaluate cruise traffic in Bergen. Among other things, minimum requirements for length of stay must be taken into consideration, a measure for tourists to spend more time in the city and not just rush on to the next destination.

There is also proposal to re-regulate the port area, so that there is only room for one ship at a time. These are good proposals currently pending, and they must also be taken into consideration in assessments in which the goal is to reduce over-tourism and the wear and tear on the urban environment that this entails, as well as to reduce emissions.

Cruise tourism leaves a large climate footprint, not only related to sailing, but also transport to and from the port of call and at the ports of call.

Bergen, Norway’s largest cruise port and one of the largest in Northern Europe, the city that aims to be the greenest in the country, must take the lead in downscaling the cruise industry, so that it does not return to the level it was at before the coronavirus pandemic. We now have that opportunity.

Gabriel Fliflet is the head of the Nature Conservation Association Hordaland, and William Helland-Hansen is of the climate and transport group, Naturvernforbundet Hordaland. Both are based in Bergen, Norway.

Reprinted with permission from the June 5, 2021, edition of Bergens Tidende ( Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall.

This article originally appeared in the July 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.