Hurtigruten ("Express Route", also known as the Norwegian Coastal Express) is a Norwegian cruise, ferry and cargo operator. The company was founded in 1893 to operate voyages on Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Hurtigruten ships sail almost the entire length of the country, crossing the arctic circle and completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. The trip has been described as the "World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage," with stops in such places as Bergen, the Geiranger fjord, and the Lofoten Islands. The company has nearly 2% of the worldwide cruise market. More recently, Hurtigruten has begun operating cruises in other areas such as Greenland, Canada, South America, Iceland, Svalbard, and Antarctica.
Hurtigruten was established in 1893 by government contract to improve communications along Norway's long, jagged coastline. Vesteraalen began the first round-trip journey from Trondheim on 2 July 1893 bound for Hammerfest, with calls at Rørvik, Brønnøy, Sandnessjøen, Bodø, Svolvær, Lødingen, Harstad, Tromsø and Skjervøy. The ship arrived at Svolvær on Monday 3 July at 8pm after 35½ hours and at Hammerfest on Wednesday 5 July after 67 hours. She was captained by Hurtigruten founder Richard With. As of 2008, the Trondheim-Svolvær trip took 33 hours and the Trondheim-Hammerfest trip took 41 hours 15 min.
Before Hurtigruten opened, only Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab was willing to make the trip through the then poorly-charted waters; the voyage was especially difficult during the long, dark winters. Hurtigruten was a substantial breakthrough for communities along its path. Mail from central Norway to Hammerfest, which used to take three weeks in summer and five months in winter, could now be delivered in seven days.
Encouraged by Vesteraalens' early success, several other shipping companies obtained a concession to operate the route, extended to run between Bergen in the southwest and Kirkenes in the far northeast. A fleet of 11 ships visits each of the 34 ports daily, both northbound and southbound.
Beginning in the 1980s, the role of Hurtigruten changed, in part because a construction of a local airport network and road improvements; operating subsidies were gradually phased out and the operators put more emphasis on tourism. New, bigger and more luxurious ships were introduced, with attention given to hot tubs, bars, restaurants and other comforts. However, Hurtigruten still serves important passenger and cargo needs, and operates 365 days a year. The last two independent shipping companies, Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab (OVDS) and Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap (TFDS), merged on 1 March 2006 as the Hurtigruten Group, a year later becoming Hurtigruten ASA. In 2015 Hurtigruten was delisted from the Oslo stock exchange after the company was acquired by a private equity group. In addition to the voyages in Norway, the company operates expedition cruises to Greenland, Canada, South America, Iceland, Svalbard and Antarctica.
The coastal steamer MS Finnmarken, built in 1956, and the superstructure of the first Finmarken are on land at Stokmarknes as a museum about Hurtigruten: a new Finnmarken has since been added to the fleet. One vessel of the oldest generation, MS Lofoten (1964), is still in use. MS Nordstjernen (1956) was also in use for Hurtigruten until she was sold in 2012 and at the same time protected as a national heritage in Norway. The other vessels in use were built between 1982 and 2003, most of them in the late 1990s or early 2000s.
MS Fram, named after Fridtjof Nansen's famous expedition ship Fram, delivered in 2007, is used exclusively on cruises, around Greenland during the northern hemisphere summer and around Antarctica during the northern hemisphere winter.
In order, northbound:
As part of its slow television series, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation transmitted non-stop the Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge's 134-hour voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes, which set sail on June 16, 2011.
Before World War II, a number of ships perished, usually because they ran aground in bad visibility.
Most of the Hurtigruten fleet was sunk during the World War II.
On January 8, 1959, a fire on board of MS Erling Jarl broke out while being docked at Bodø harbour. Due to the thick smoke 14 people died of smoke poisoning. Today a memorial at the shoreline of Bodø reminds of the incident.
On October 21, 1962 MS Sanct Svithun ran onto a reef in the maritime area Folda in Nord-Trøndelag because of a major navigational error after leaving Trondheim. Of 89 persons on board (passengers, crew and two postal officers) 41 died.
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