With the historic order:  “We could shut down the engines and run only on battery power…” Captain Kai Albrigsten sailed the MS Roald Amundsen into marine history yesterday, stopping his main engines so she could glide silently on electric propulsion through the seas off northern Norway.

It’s a world first for cruise operator Hurtigruten – and it couldn’t have been timed more perfectly, given the growing disquiet around major tourism cities about overtourism and pollution from big ships.

The company is targeting Australia, opening a new office here and deploying staff presumably in the believe that the burgeoning market here will take to Hurtigruten’s clean, green ships.

Asia Pacific managing director Damian Perry told Cruise Passenger:  ” While Roald Amundsen is a game changer in the Industry it clearly resonates well with Australian travellers. We have been overwhelmed with the interest and engagement with this beautiful ship.”

The distinctive black-and-red ‘Prius of the Seas’ can take 500 passengers and is designed to sail in harsh waters. But once in areas of pristine beauty, she can sail effortlessly and silently into endangered parts of the polar region without any emissions.

The engines run on marine gasoil.  But the batteries can  power the vessel for 45 to 60 minutes, which allows for visits to particularly sensitive areas of the world.

The ship heads for the Arctic this week and will sail the Northwest Passage to Alaska before heading south, reaching Antarctica in October.

The company maintains it can save 20% in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to if the ship was operating on marine gasoil alone.

“It’s designed to take excessive energy from the engines and put into the battery when the ship doesn’t need it, and put it back into the engine when the ship needs it — it is a way of reducing emissions significantly without having charging stations available,” a company spokesman said.

The company was inspired by Norway’s hybrid ferries and electric cars.

Battery technology for propelling ships is new and has a long way to go.

“We expect batteries to be an important part of shipping in the years to come, but of course we don’t expect our ships to be able to operate only on batteries, because the ship can sail up to 18-20 days in areas where there are no charging points,” says Hurtigruten.

The industry needs lighter, yet more powerful systems.

Hurtigruten’s second hybrid cruise ship, to be delivered later this year, will have battery pack with twice the capacity of the Roald Amundsen.

Passengers aboard won’t be missing out on creature comforts.

Says Mr Perry:  “While travellers will be the first ever to explore a hybrid powered Expedition ship they do not miss out on any comforts, with premium lux Scandic design, spacious cabins, numerous communal areas and indoor outdoor panorama deck, 3 restaurants, Sauna, wellness centre pools and the most advanced and detailed Science centre allowing travellers to genuinely experience the destination.

“All this is delivered with sustainability at the core of operations focusing on the hybrid propulsion, heat recovery system, food and food waste solutions. Explorers will be truly spoilt.”

See more at hurtigruten.com