A pioneer returns to the polar world | Polarjournal
The Polar Pioneer shaped the polar cruise industry for decades. Around 50 passengers per trip were able to spend maximum time close to the wonders of the Arctic and Antarctic thanks to high ice class and great manoeuvrability. Picture: Roy Mangersnes

In the early 1990s, when polar tourism was gaining momentum, the ships used were mostly Russian research vessels whose owners needed new sources of income due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some of these ships became icons of the polar cruise industry and had a large number of supporters despite their lack of luxury. This is because their capabilities, coupled with their size, made them ideal nature observation platforms. But only a few of these small ships remain today. But one pioneer is now returning to the polar worlds.

The Polar Pioneer, which was retired by Australian company Aurora Expeditions in 2019, will be back in the Arctic and Antarctic starting next year. Thanks to a Scandinavian group of investors, all fans of the ship, the ship was brought back from its retired life. At present, the former research vessel, built in 1982, is being repaired and overhauled in Riga. Roy Mangersnes of Polar Pioneer Management, who now operate the ship, proudly tells PolarJournal, “The ship is in immaculate condition and the work that needs to be done is more superficial and cosmetic. First and foremost, it is new piping, new furniture and cabin fittings that need to be renewed. The dark interior is to be replaced by friendly, Scandinavian design. We also want to redesign some systems to be more environmentally friendly. But the character of the ship is not changed. After all, we want to bring back the Polar Pioneer.”

“We find the ship to be the perfect expedition platform for polar enthusiasts to experience the beauty of polar nature as authentically as possible.”

Roy Mangersnes, Polar Pioneer Management

The Polar Pioneer was built in Finland in 1982 under the name Akademik Shuleykin as the first of a whole series of similar research vessels for the Soviet Union. At that time, the Soviet Union mainly wanted to carry out oceanographic research with the ships, also in the polar regions. But the collapse of the USSR also meant the financial end for research. In the following years, more and more of the ships were used for expeditions and became very popular with polar enthusiasts. Over time, however, the operation of these ships became more and more cost-intensive and with the emergence of newer and larger ships, which also offered even more comfort, most operators abandoned the ships again. In the end, only Aurora Expeditions’ Polar Pioneer and Heritage Expeditions’ Spirit of Enderby remained on the market. However, Aurora also opted for new, more modern and somewhat larger ships and retired the Pioneer. A no-go, as Roy Mangersnes and some of his colleagues thought. “We had spent a lot of time aboard the Pioneer and knew its capabilities,” he says in conversation. “We find the ship to be the perfect expedition platform for polar enthusiasts to experience the beauty of polar nature as authentically as possible. Smaller and therefore more familiar than most of today’s expedition ships and yet more comfortable than the very small expedition ships around Svalbard, that is our Polar Pioneer“.

The people behind Polar Pioneer are not a faceless consortium of investors, but experienced polar experts who have been travelling in the Arctic and Antarctic for many years and therefore have a feeling for what the guests really want. From left to right: Staffan Strive, Managing Director, Roy Mangersnes, Polar Pioneer Management, Heather Thorkelson, Twin Tracks, David Berg, Twin Tracks. Images: Courtesy of Polar Pioneer Management and Twin Tracks Expeditions. Image Heather Thorkelson: Dean Tatooles; Image David Berg: Christoph Michel

When the work on the ship is completed next year, the Polar Pioneer will be deployed around Svalbard for the first time. Trips to Greenland and Iceland are also planned thereafter. At the end of the northern summer, the ship will then head south, departing from the Falkland Islands for South Georgia. “We’re going to use the ship’s capabilities in the north as well as the south. That’s something the small ships don’t do,” Roy says. “In the south, Pioneer will be one of the smallest ships in the Antarctic Peninsula region, which we see as an advantage. Because we want to bring back the real expedition feeling, something our ship actually had and will have a pioneering role in.” He and his colleagues are convinced of this concept and not without reason. After all, behind the owners and the team operating the ship, which now sails under the Cypriot flag, are decades of experience in polar regions. In addition to the operator Polar Alca Maritime AB, led by Staffan Strive, and the management team of Roy Mangersnes and Ole Jørgen Liodden, the companies Wild Photo Travel (in the form of White Plains Holding) and Twin Tracks Expeditions are also involved in the ship. The people in both companies have worked in the polar travel industry for years and know both the industry and the customers’ wishes very well. However, there are no plans to sell the 29 cabins directly; instead, a maximum of 53 guests will be taken to the wonder worlds of the Arctic and Antarctic via charter companies. “In the process, nature will once again come to the fore and revive the real expedition spirit, which has been somewhat lost these days due to the cruise feeling,” says Roy Mangersnes. And it will take a polar pioneer again.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to Polar Pioneer Management: Click here

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