Polar tourism once began in the remote Svalbard archipelago. Also Hurtigruten-founder Richard With sailed already in 1896 with polar-interested guests to the Arctic archipelago that did not belong to anybody at that time. Now the company has taken this fact into account and has registered and christened its newest expedition ship in Longyearbyen. The godmothers are two polar heroines who have just made history themselves.
In the presence of the two CEOs of Hurtigruten, Group CEO Daniel Skjedam and Huritgruten Expeditions CEO Asta Lassesen, and numerous guests and spectators, the two Hearts in the Ice participants Hilde Fålun Strøm and Sunniva Sørby named the expedition vessel Fridtjof Nansen. Unlike normal ship christenings, a chunk of ice was smashed against the ship’s side instead of a bottle of champagne. In doing so, Sunniva Sørby relied on the famous words of Roald Amundsen, who had done the same thing when he christened the Maud (in which he sailed, among other things, the Northwest Passage): “It is not my intention to dishonor the glorious grape, but already you will get a taste of your real surroundings. For the ice you were built, in the ice you shall remain most of your life, and in the ice you will solve your tasks.”
With the christening of the ship, Hurtigruten has also chosen Longyearbyen as the home port of the Fridtjof Nansen, a first in the history of polar tourism. “By naming this unprecedented ship after Fridtjof Nansen, on Svalbard, we pay tribute to him as an explorer and a scientist and to the rich arctic legacy of Hurtigruten Expeditions,” explains Hurtigruten Expedition CEO Asta Lassesen. “We also salute our long-lasting relationship with the Svalbard community. This small-sized, battery-hybrid powered expedition ship will explore all waters – and she will do so proudly calling Svalbard home.”
The choice of the two godmothers is also directly related to the nature of the ship and its use as an expedition vessel. Because Sunniva Sørby and Hilde Fålun Strøm have just made history themselves by living in a trapper’s hut near Bamsebu since 2019 and have now wintered twice there. With their project Hearts in the Ice the two polar researchers wanted to deepen our understanding of the consequences of climate change. To this end they had conducted scientific research as well as communicated with more than ten thousand students worldwide. Hurtigruten was one of the main sponsors. “Hilde and Sunniva’s relationship with Svalbard and the Arctic, and their passion for it, is just as strong as ours,” explains Hurtigruten Group CEO Daniel Skjedam. “It is clear that we are joining forces and working together to ensure that our expeditions remain the most responsible, educational and sustainable as we continue to grow and expand as a global company.”
For Longyearbyen and Svalbard the christening was also a “world first”, as no passenger ship had ever been christened here before, let alone registered here. More than 400 spectators attended the christening and witnessed the solemn ceremony. The ship will now first head north for a test voyage before probably heading for Antarctica, if Hurtigruten Expeditions’ plans are anything to go by.
The Fridtjof Nansen is now Hurtigruten’s second expedition ship to be equipped with environmentally friendly hybrid propulsion. Powerful batteries allow the ship to run purely on electricity when needed instead of the normal diesel drive. But as a rule, the batteries are only intended to support the propulsion system and thus reduce the ship’s emissions by up to 20 percent compared to expedition ships of the same size. The ship is 140 metres long, 23.6 metres wide and can take up to 530 passengers on board. Originally, the ship should have started operations last year. But due to the pandemic, all activities were cancelled. Now, however, she will be able to explore the polar regions in the spirit of her namesake and, unlike Nansen, will also be on the move in Antarctica. We wish the ship always a hand’s width of water under the keel.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal