As of now, 26 vessels are scheduled to dock in Longyearbyen during 2015 cruise season. Last year at this time, the figure was around 30. Furthermore, port calls by several ships are still uncertain.
"We are probably going to get some extra ones coming, but at the same time there may be some cancellations," said Rikhart Olsen Ingerø, traffic and safety manager at Longyearbyen Harbor.
It has been expected more cruise ships will eliminate port calls in Svalbard because of the ban on heavy fuel oil, which takes effect Jan. 1 of next year. A consequence of the ban is port calls in Ny-Ålesund, plus especially Magdalenefjorden and northwest Spitsbergen, are no longer allowed for ships operating on heavy fuel oil. That affects most overseas cruise ships.
Such ships may travel into Isfjorden, but in October of last year a portion of the cruise industry Svalbard announced they were eliminating Svalbard as a destination.
'Rather many small'
Among those dropping Svalbard next summer is the Costa Pacifica. The ship has a capacity of 3,780 passengers and 1,100 crew, and was the largest ever to visit Longyearbyen during summer.
"The heavy oil ban has consequences," said Ronny Brunvoll, director of Visit Svalbard. "The Costa shipowner clearly said that with the exception of one ship they are cutting out Svalbard."
The one ship, he said, is the Costa NeoRomantica with room for 1,356 passengers and 600 crew.
Brunvoll admits he is anxious, but points out that, on the basis of logistics and capacity, Longyearbyen is better off with many small ships, than fewer larger ones.
Unresolved for giants
It is, however, likely the average tonnage will increase. MSC Cruises has announced the arrival of MSC Splendida, a ship that measures 333.5 meters from bow to stern, and has space for 3,900 passengers and 1,313 crew.
"If so, it is the largest thing ever, but it remains uncertain, said Harbormaster Kjetil Bråten.
"It requires an additional mooring arrangement," he added. "We have not received any notice of cancellation and today it stands listed with the sailings to Svalbard."
When the proposal to ban heavy oil was out for consultation in 2010, the tourism council in Svalbard said parts of the retail industry in Longyearbyen may lose between 20 and 40 percent of their revenue. In addition, the tourism council warned port revenues may be halved to three million or four million kroner, while the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund risks losing five million to six million kroner per year.
Kings Bay is also expected to lose revenue and researchers' costs may increase because revenue from cruise traffic stopping at the international research settlement funds part of the operation.
'Greener' cruise ships
But it's not just in Svalbard the cruise industry is encountering tougher environmental standards. South of 62 degrees latitude north there is now an additional fee to sail with heavy oil, said Erik Joachimsen, director of Cruise Northern Norway and Svalbard (CNNS).
Regulated Emissions Zones (ECA - emission control areas) are increasing and emissions requirements of the regulated zones will be progressively stricter. They have already been implemented in the North Sea and in 2020 will also apply to waters off northern Norway. Since several major countries are adopting such zones, the cruise industry is being forced to build more environmentally friendly vessels, Joachimsen opined.
As Svalbardposten understands it, several cruise lines are now considering building ships that operate on LNG, which is gas cooled to liquid form and thus compressed 600 times.
"I do not think there will be more ships built that are as little environmental friendly as today," Joachimsen said. "Shipowners are very aware of that and have also, among other things, paid nitrogen oxide taxes in Norway. This money they will receive back by environmental measures and many ships are installing equipment to make them cleaner."
"It may well be there is a small decrease in Svalbard next year," he said. "Then we will see how clever the tourism industry in Longyearbyen is at adopting and developing land offerings in Isfjorden. I think it can be a very positive challenge for the tourism industry. It also reduces the cost of the shipping companies that are doing shorter sailings."