"May luck and happiness follow you in all waters," was godmother Inger Aarvaag Stokke's words to the Polarsyssel before the boat was christened in champagne Saturday. The boat is the latest step in strengthening emergency preparedness in Svalbard.
As a lawyer for The Governor of Svalbard, Stokke worked for several years to get a new service vessel for the governor in place.
"Early in 2011, work began," she said. "First up against the ministry to get an economic framework and political acceptance. Then the governor described what kind of properties the boat should have and two years ago we began to invite tenders."
Last December, Stokke finished her work with the governor and took the governor's boat with her to a new job in the Polar Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety.
What was it like to come back to Longyearbyen and a completed boat?
"It was a very special and enjoyable experience," she said. "Almost surreal because the road has been long, and there are many challenges along the way that you spend time and effort on. Getting on the dock and seeing the boat decorated and all the people and the men's choir, it was great."
In a national costume from Nordmøre, it was Sokke who had Saturday's main job. In advance of the baptism, there was much discussion about tactics.
"Many were giving good advice and I heard stories that someone had tried to smash a bottle 12 or 13 times before they succeeded," she said. "Then I thought that I had to take in a little, and I did that. There and then I thought that maybe it was too hard."
The bottle broke on the first attempt and Stokke went on board the Polarsyssel with the captain to great applause and cheers from the audience.
First since Balstad
Gov. Odd Olsen Ingerø said in his speech he is the first governor since Håkon Balstad in the 1950s to welcome a brand new ship. Ingerø said what he has seen so far looks very promising.
"I will take the Polarsyssel into serious use this week," he said. "We will replace the fuel at all our depots and we'll see how it works in the weather and conditions. We will also get to see the ship interacting with the helicopter with external loads."
He said he believes the work will go faster and easier than with the previous service vessel, the Nordsyssel.
"But it went very well with that one also," the governor said.
The Governor has issued a series of demands to the Polarsyssel.
"It is important for us is that we use the boat for many different tasks," he said. "What is special is the new helipad. It is a great improvement. In addition, it should be easy for people who are not sailors to operate from it, we can engage in firefighting and can accommodate a larger number of people."
In addition, he said the boat will pollute as little as possible for its size, which some new technology provides.
The Polarsyssel is the last piece n the strengthening of preparedness in Svalbard this year.
"The greatest promise in preparedness is, of course, that we have two equal helicopters," Ingerø said. "They have the same equipment including de-icing, among other things, and helicopter number two can be in the air earlier than before. So it is more efficient and faster to land on the Polarsyssel than on a smaller deck where they were more exposed to the weather. We also have fire cannons on board that we had not had before. Hopefully we have a new and reliable vessel, but I cannot remember that I ever was told that the Nordsyssel could not go, so it was a reliable boat says Ingerø.
Are preparedness improvements finished now?
"That is the thousand-kroner question," Ingerø said. "I believe we have taken a significant step forward. I dare not say that we are finished, but we have no immediate plans for expansion. One should never be content that now we have good enough preparedness, but I am very satisfied with the progress in recent years."
When the Polarsyssel came to Longyearbyen, the crew was not certified to take down helicopters.
"You must be able to train helicopter and boat crews simultaneously," Ingerø said. "It was not physically possible before the ship arrived."
He said the ship can now take down the helicopter and refuel the aircraft, and the creation of procedures and approval of various operations are continuing.
"The helicopter doesn't do operations that the captain of the helicopter does not believe are appropriate for the procedures they have," Ingerø said.
Remøy Management is contracted by the governor to operate the Polarsyssel. The governor will have the ship 180 days a year. The rest of the time the Polarsyssel will be used offshore.
"We had to combine it with what was most consistent with the governor's needs," said Sigurd Remøy, operations manager for Remøy Management.
He said the boat is a new design from Havyard.
"It will be practical and good at sea," he said. "We saw for ourselves on the way northward that it functioned very well."
The hull was built in Turkey, while the rest of the boat's construction was done by Havyard's shipyard in Leirvik.
"It's a happy day today," said Minister of Justice Anders Anundsen. "Now we have a new helicopter, a new hanger and a new boat. These are an enormous boost for preparedness."
Anundsen is the minister who has the honor of finishing the project.
"The work started four years ago, so there were obviously important preparatory steps taken by the previous government," he said. "Many have played an important role."
The minister said he believes it is important Svalbard's population sees that the present government is investing in the archipelago.
"Large and important deliveries have happened this year," he said. "Then there are other challenges we have to be aware of. Among other things, changes in the structure of industry, at Store Norske and something as basic as a power plant. Now, the power plant has gotten an extended lifespan, but that does not mean we can rest on our laurels. It is only the time and the path for establishing a new one."