"There is a shortfall of 250 quay meters with today's traffic levels," said Harbormaster Kjetil Bråtten, after serving coffee in the lounge in the middle of the building the harbor and Pole Position share at Bykaia. He is not upset the summer of 2014 is the last before a heavy oil ban in Svalbard goes into full effect and cruise ships can no longer go to Ny-Ålesund and Magdalenefjorden, only Isfjorden.
Fewer but larger
"If customers will come, they will have to deal with it," he said. "I think that as a tourist the experience is largely equal to come to Isfjorden. It is probably a little speed bump we must get over, but for most people a trip to Isfjorden will be enough."
It will again be a busy time at the harbor. Longyearbyen Harbor is so far reporting 41 cruise ship port calls from June to August, about the same as 2013. Last year, overseas cruise ships brought 38,019 passengers in 48 port calls. A small decrease is therefore possible, but the harbormanager said there are more big ships this year. The ships coming this summer can theoretically carry 44,871 passengers, but that requires the cruises to be fully booked. He said he is not afraid of any decline in the coming years.
Pointing to profitibility
The heavy oil ban, which goes into full effect Jan. 1, has received considerable attention. Last autumn notices came from, among others, Norwegian agent T.R. Shipping Norway that the ship Magnifica is considering cutting sailings to Svalbard because Ny-Ålesund and Magdalenefjorden will be unavailable. Magnifica remains on the port calls list for this summer.
Longyearbyen Harbor has for several years informed shipowners about the changes.
"It was important for us to emphasize that this is not closing the door, but that there are new opportunities in Isfjorden," Bråten said, who also notes the ships save time and fuel. "If you are lucky, it is a spectacular experience to visit Magdalenefjorden."
In addition, passengers will get a better experience during slower cruises around Isfjorden and with more time in Longyearbyen. He said he feels certain that cruise ship companies want to operate in the most profitable way. To go along the west coast to Magdalenefjorden without being sure conditions will allow the ship to enter doesn't necessarily achieve that.
Many ships today stay such short lengths it is impossible to offer activities to all passengers. In the long run, Bråten said he hopes for long layovers in Longyearbyen and shuttle boats taking tourists to various activities in the small fjords of Isfjorden. The cost of docking at the pier is, in fact, the same: a ship like the Costa Pacifica with a capacity for 3,780 passengers means a total of 250,000 kroner for port calls. In addition, there are charges for the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund and the money tourists spend locally.
"It is a very small part of the market that comes here, so we have a job to do with selling into it," Bråten said.
There are also new ships that will appear after the heavy oil ban takes effect. In 2015, MSC Cruises is scheduled to arrive in Longyearbyen with the giant MSC Splendida, which is 333.5 meters long, has 18 decks, and a capacity of 4,617 people with crew and passengers on board.
Bykaia, however, is 84 meters long. The harbormaster said that can be resolved, but it also demonstrates the capacity is at the limit. The same applies to water and waste management. According to the strategic port plan, the quay has the capacity for ships up to 300 meters long. In addition to more berths there is a need for new buildings on the land. Most stand without a roof, but in 2015 there are plans to start construction of a new harbor building and a large floating jetty. Beyond that are plans for a 150-meter quay west of Bykaia, but when is uncertain. Norway's national transportation plan has allocated 200 million kroner for port development in Svalbard.
Shorter cruises with harbor turnarounds
Svalbard can get an increase that will come with harbor turnarounds in Bodø and Lakselv. That is the thinking of Erik Joachimsen, administrative director of Cruise Northern Norway and Svalabrd (CNNS). The reason is regulations require cruise ships to be outside the Norwegian customs zone for at least a day before they can return to a turnaround harbor to drop off old passengers and take new ones on board. Svalbard and Russia are outside the customs zone.
"Another point is that it will be shorter to go to Longyearbyen with harbor turnarounds in northern Norway," he said. "It will be a completely different logistic."
CNNS is planning an inspection tour with cruise companies in August at locations that will include Svalbard.
What about the heavy oil ban?
"It will turn out," Joachimsen said. "The question is whether the tourism industry is able to adapt and convince the cruise industry that Isfjorden is just as spectacular as sailing along the east coast. Personally, I think passengers will experience Svalbard in a more compact form. And the ship companies save costs with shorter sailing times."