Tourism in Norway: Diesel-free fjords – in three years

european magazine

As of: November 13, 2023 12:49 p.m

From 2026, Norway’s government no longer wants to allow diesel-powered cruise ships to enter the Geirangerfjord. What is supposed to protect the climate and the environment comes too suddenly to some people in the tourism business.

Majestic mountains, wild waterfalls, deep blue fjords: Norway’s west coast attracts tourists from all over the world. Most of them come by cruise ship. Frank-Ole Bonsaken ensures that the huge steel colossuses can moor in the small port of Geiranger.

“They come every day,” calls the port captain as he ties the ship’s thick ropes to an anchor buoy in the fjord. “That’s already number 102 this year.” The Norwegian grew up on his grandfather’s farm in Geiranger. But there is hardly any money to be made from farming, he says. That’s why the many tourists don’t bother him, on the contrary: “Mooring or driving tourists around creates jobs. For many, the ships and the guests on board are a livelihood.”

The ship is moored. And then they come: 6,000 tourists who push their way past the souvenir shops and restaurants to the viewpoints in the hinterland. Around 400,000 cruise tourists come to the tiny town every year. But Norway’s government wants to reduce the rush. Above all, they want to ban exhaust gases full of carbon dioxide, soot and nitrogen oxides.

Norway’s Foreign Minister and former Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide explains why: “Cruise ships cause the highest emissions per passenger and distance traveled in the world. They pollute our fjords. That’s why all parties in the Norwegian Parliament have decided that no more emissions should be allowed to occur here.”

Is LNG propulsion the solution?

Zero emissions in just three years: This is quite a challenge for the industry. Because most cruise ships still run on diesel. Only a few can get by without it – like the “MSC Euribia”. Michaele Francioni has come from the company headquarters in Geneva and proudly shows the ship engines that run on LNG.

“It’s a big step forward,” explains the manager, who is supposed to optimize cruises in his Italian company. “For the first time, we are using a fuel that is cooled. This gives us the opportunity to use other alternative fuels in the future that emit less carbon dioxide – an important step on the way to zero emissions.”

LNG instead of ship diesel, which means significantly fewer exhaust gases. The company says they also save energy when operating the hotel: the heaters and pool are heated by the ship’s engines. The ultra-modern ship is the pride of the fleet. The construction cost around one billion euros.

But Norway’s government is not yet satisfied with LNG technology. “If you want to come to our fjords, you have backed the wrong horse,” says Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. LNG is far from being emission-free and would only reduce CO2 emissions by 20 to 25 percent.

In high season, three ships a day sail through the Geirangerfjord – a spectacle with consequences for the climate and the environment.

“It all came very suddenly”

So far, the only way to enter the fjord without harmful exhaust gases is with much smaller ships that are powered by electric propulsion. However, the battery power of the huge batteries is only enough for four hours. The rest of the time these ships also run on LNG liquefied gas.

The beginnings of a greener cruise are there, but not yet fully developed. If Norway’s government continues to be tough, significantly fewer tourists will come to Geiranger in a few years. Port captain Frank-Ole Bonsaksen believes they will feel that here: “We are aware that we have to do something for the environment. But it all happened very suddenly. I can hardly imagine the consequences. But I’m afraid that we who live here are losing our livelihood.”

The port captain and many residents of the Geirangerfjord are therefore hoping for a transition period.

This and other reports ran on Sunday, November 12th, 2023 at 12:45 p.m. in the “Europamagazin”.

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