Regulations for vessel traffic in the Nerøyfjord, Aurlandsfjord, Geirangerfjord, Sunnylvsfjord and Tafjord were tightened on 1 January this year. A prior study undertaken by the Norwegian Maritime Authority concluded that stricter measures needed to be taken to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx) in particular. After some glorious spring and summer months, the cruise season is now drawing to a close. And the harbourmasters heartily agree: without exception, the regulations are seen as positive, important and reasonable.

‘We only have one objection: they are not strict enough,’ says Rita Berstad Maraak, harbourmaster in Stranda municipality.



She claims that taking care of the Norwegian fjords is a national concern, and that the measures should be made applicable to all Norwegian territorial waters.

‘It is crucial to avoid letting sound environmental policies become a cause of unreasonable competition. If the regulations are made to apply only to the world heritage fjords, the emissions will simply move elsewhere. We applaud strict measures, but they should apply to everybody,’ she emphasises.

Cruise tourism is extremely important for the local communities along the world heritage fjords and perhaps the cornerstone of the local tourist industry. Jostein Lange Bergset, harbourmaster in Flåm, tells Navigare that there has been less visible smoke this summer, but also that it is difficult to distinguish legal fumes from those that should not have been emitted in the first place. 

‘We have reported the examples that we have observed, but fortunately it seems that there has been less really nasty smoke this season,’ Lange Bergset notes.

He adds that the rules enacted this year are manageable for everybody, but that they are now focusing more on future regulations.



Katrin Blomvik, director of the Geirangerfjord World Heritage Foundation, recently attended an international conference held in Alaska under the auspices of UNESCO for all maritime world heritage sites across the globe. 

‘We are really excited to see the huge interest being taken in the Norwegian management of the world heritage fjords,’ she says. Today there are 50 protected maritime heritage sites on the World Heritage List, and the West Norwegian Fjord Landscape is one of them.

‘UNESCO refers to our scenic fjords as “the Crown Jewels of the Seas”. These areas are expected to represent the most outstanding marine management practices worldwide, thereby preserving the universal values for future generations and thus creating a model for other protected marine areas,’ she says. From 1 January 2020, the rules on NOx emissions will be tightened. These strict regulations put Norwegian management on the international map and are being noticed. 

‘We have received fewer complaints from local people and visitors with regard to the pollution generated by the cruise ships this summer. We expect the situation to improve over time, in line with the gradual tightening of the regulations,’ Blomvik explains.



There have been quite a few gloomy predictions for the Norwegian cruise industry as a result of the stricter regulations, but Erling Oppheim, director of the Nærøyfjord World Heritage Park, has no fears that they will cause Norway and her spectacular fjords to suffer as a tourist destination. 

‘Quite the reverse, the shipowners are teaming up with us. Experience from the collaboration in Alaska shows that it is fully feasible to impose strict requirements. We have invited the cruise operators to collaboration meetings to discuss how they can contribute, and we have engaged in a positive dialogue to promote the environment, climate and sustainable development of these areas,’ Oppheim says. Like the harbourmaster of Flåm, Oppheim has also reported observations of visible smoke from vessels this summer. Now he is looking forward to 2026. 

‘These will be exciting times. The Norwegian world heritage sites shall be a beacon, and we will turn words into action,’ he emphasises.



Bjørn Pedersen, head of the Department of Legislation and International Relations in the Norwegian Maritime Authority, makes it clear that many vessels will have difficulty complying with the requirements in the more stringent regulations, and that cancellations are likely to come. As a consequence, the world heritage fjords will be open to vessels that may legally enter them. 

‘The proportion of vessels built before 2000 that have previously used the world heritage fjords as ports of call will be further reduced, and we regard this as a direct consequence of the environmental requirements. The good news is that there are new cruise ships that have the best and newest technology and comply with the requirements, and they will start arriving as early as next year,’ Pedersen explains.



The regulations will be gradually tightened over a five-year period, in order to enable the cruise industry to conform to the increasingly strict requirements. The first requirement for reduced NOx emissions will enter into force in 2020. A further tightening will come in 2022, while the strictest requirement regarding NOx emissions will be introduced in 2025. This will entail an 80 per cent reduction in NOx emissions, which will require good exhaust gas treatment systems or alternative fuels.

‘Although we have seen improvements already this year, the major gains will come in the years ahead. We are therefore now considering the possibility of introducing stricter environmental requirements for shipping in Norwegian waters in general, not only in the world heritage fjords,’ Pedersen concludes.