Beginning in mid October, Nordnorge was scheduled to sail from both Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn on a season of 19-, 21- and 22-night cruises with stops in the Falkland and South Georgia Islands, as well as landings in Antarctica at Half Moon Island, Deception Island and Cuverville.
Now instead of zodiacs, naturalists, penguins, and the occasional rescue of sinking ships -- Nordnorge aided in the passenger evacuation of G.A.P. Adventures' sinking M/S Explorer in November 2007 -- the vessel will stay in Norway, where it already spends much of its time. Nordnorge will make a full-year habit of providing coastal cruises/ferry/mail delivery service to 34 Norwegian ports -- the backbone of Hurtigruten's offerings.
For passengers booked on a Nordnorge sailing -- the first one is still about four months out -- Hurtigruten is offering the option for refunds, or the chance to rebook on the 2007-built, 318-passenger Fram, a second vessel in the region, at a reduced rate. Fram sails on 13- and 17-night Antarctica itineraries.
There are no current plans to restore a second ship to Antarctica.
So why the change of scene for Nordnorge? The move is said to come as a result of the impending sale of one of Norway-based Hurtigruten's ferries: a "mid-generation" class ferry built in the 1980's. The line has a government contract with Norway -- a 120 year old contract -- to provide at least once-daily service to 34 Norwegian coastal ports, many of which are inaccessible except by water or air. These communities rely on the ships to provide basic mail and transportation services. To fulfill the requirement, Hurtigruten needed Nordnorge to sail the route year round.
While Nordnorge's Antarctica bookings were clearly commanding less attention than those of Fram, its newer, flashier fleetmate, the transfer wasn't a result of Hurtigrtuten offering too much of a good thing. To the question of whether the move signaled South Pole oversaturation, spokesperson Elliot Gilles responded: "Oh god no. I don't think you'll ever see that. Big ships can only pass by. It's the domain of the smaller ship -- and there aren't a heck of a lot out there."
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor