For nearly 130 years, the Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Express—the (much) older sister company to Hurtigruten Expeditions—has ferried people and goods between 34 ports, from Bergen to Kirkenes. It was the only way to access Norway’s most remote communities when it started. It’s still that—as well as a popular way for travelers to see Norway’s famed fjords and idyllic fishing villages.
While much has changed since the Coastal Express’s inception, perhaps its most significant transformation will happen within eight years. Hurtigruten recently announced that, by 2030, the route will feature its first zero-emissions passenger ship.
In a press release, Hurtigruten Group CEO Daniel Skjeldam called the project its “most ambitious sustainability initiative to date.” Hurtigruten will partner with SINTEF, a Norwegian research institute known for finding new energy solutions, which will provide analysis, research, and development of the new ship build program. It will look at everything from design to propulsion and how each element can help make the ships greener.
Hurtigruten has long been a pioneer in making the cruising industry more sustainable (for that reason, AFAR named Skjeldam to its 2021 Travel Vanguard). In 2017, Hurtigruten partnered with the Clean Arctic alliance to launch the HFO-Free Arctic Campaign, which strives to eliminate the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic shipping. The company launched the first hybrid electric-powered cruise ship, the MS Roald Amundsen, in 2019 (and then its sister ship, the MS Fridtjof Nansen, in 2020). According to Hurtigruten, the green technology employed aboard the two vessels helps reduce air pollutant emissions by 20 percent.
Round-trip, the Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Express voyage takes 12 days, and the bulk of the dockings last fewer than 30 minutes. Each of the ships has beds for roughly 500 guests (250 or so rooms) with multiple dining options and spots to watch the coastline slip by.
“With this project, Hurtigruten Norway and SINTEF can show the world that green and sustainable passenger ships can be achieved in the near future. Cutting emissions in the maritime sector is by no means an easy feat, and we need ambitious companies like Hurtigruten Norway to take initiatives like this,” said SINTEF president Alexandra Bech Gjørv in the press release.
While Hurtigruten has identified its deadline, the journey to reach zero emissions is still up in the air—it’s not yet sure the technologies it needs are currently available.
Hurtigruten currently owns seven coastal ships; three have been converted into hybrid boats, and the other four will get the same modifications by mid-2023. Those improvements, as well as phasing in sustainable biofuels, will reduce CO2 emissions by around 25 percent and cut NOx emissions by 80 percent of their previous numbers, said Hedda Felin, CEO of Hurtigruten Norway.
Although Hurtigruten also has seven expedition ships, which currently sail to such destinations as Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica—places warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world—it will start first with the Norwegian Coastal Express. That’s not because it’s the most senior route but because of its frequent anchorages, which make it easier to “fuel up,” however that may be.
Felin said that Hurtigruten hopes to expand the practices to its expedition ships in the following years.
“Of course, we will be very open with our findings,” Felin said. “We hope that the rest of the industry will also apply our learning and can benefit from it.”