A cruise ship operated by Norway’s Hurtigruten has been refused entry into Russian waters above the Arctic circle two weeks before its scheduled departure.
Spitsbergen had originally been slated to leave Tromsø for Murmansk later this month when Hurtigruten’s sailing licence for two cruises in the said waters was suddenly and inexplicably revoked by the Russian government.
Hurtigruten’s management has expressed surprise at the rejections, saying that the trip had been planned for years in advance and with the cooperation of Russian authorities.
The rejection of the sailings comes after Moscow recently conducted a massive naval exercise reportedly involving over 30 surface ships and submarines in the Barents Sea.
Spitsbergen‘s Tromsø-Murmansk route would have taken it to within close proximity of Franz Josef Land, a small Barents Sea archipelago inhabited only by the Russian military.
A spokeswoman for the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs said that Spitsbergen and others in the Hurtigruten fleet would likely be viewed by Russia as intelligence-gathering vessels instead of as civilian ships.
Norwegian defence officials meanwhile remarked that the increase in Russian naval activity in the Barents Sea was a way of preventing NATO from operating in the North Atlantic, thus allowing Moscow to more freely build military bases in the region.
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