Norway closes its ports and borders to Russian cargo | Polarjournal
Don’t laugh, it’s not sanctioned

A month after EU countries announced that their fifth round of sanctions against Russia after it began waging war on Ukraine on 24 February would involve closing its borders to cargo traffic, Norway, last week, decided it would do the same. Starting on 29 April, land borders were closed; on 7 May, ports will close. 

Like with the EU — of which Norway is not a part — the ban on port calls will apply to Russian-flagged vessels over 500 gross tons that sail commercially in international traffic, as well as yachts and some pleasure craft and recreational vessels. 

The Norwegian ban has plenty of loopholes though; it does not cover fishing vessels, for example, nor does it include search-and-rescue vessels or research vessels. Likewise, the ban applies only to ports on mainland Norway; Oslo has decided that it cannot prevent vessels from calling on ports in Svalbard, which, though administered by Norway, must remain open to any country that has ratified the Svalbard Treaty. 

According to Kystverket, which regulates Norway’s ports, there are relatively few calls by Russian vessels in the first place, and only a minority of these are vessels of the sort that the sanctions apply to. Of the 120,000 or so ships that called on Norway last year, just 1,595 meet the sanctions’ definition of “Russian”; 900 of them were fishing vessels. At the time the sanctions were announced, there were 18 Russian vessels in Norwegian ports; none of them would have been forced to leave had the sanctions come into effect immediately, as road-traffic sanctions did. 

Implementing the sanctions, according to Bjørnar Skjæran, the fisheries minister, shows that Oslo does not approve of Russia’s war against Ukraine, but, he added, there was no reason to let that disagreement spoil aspects of Norway’s relationship with Russia that do work.

The most important of these is fishing. Starting in the 1970s, Norway and the then-Soviet Union agreed to a shared quota system for for cod in the Barents Sea. Today, Norway and Russia share about 80% the Barents Sea cod that is allotted to the two countries (the rest goes to other countries), and they may fish their share in either of the two countries’ economic zones.

The agreement was the first of its kind and has been credited with preventing overfishing, since it means that fishermen from both countries can fish where there are most fish. Nowadays, the Barents Sea is considered to have a healthy stock of cod as a result. Preventing Russian ships from calling on Norwegian ports, the argument goes, would jeopardise that by forcing Russian ships to fish closer to Russian ports, where they might need to catch younger and smaller fish. The economic net around Russia is tightening, but, for now at least, fisheries are being allowed to slip through.

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal

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