Where is the line between a pleasure boat and a merchant ship? Swedish authorities say that the difference is clear under national law, but the owner of the former cruise ship Birger Jarl appears to disagree. Since 2019, the vessel has gone on several excursions without the usual certifications needed for operating a ship of her size. At minimum, Swedish officials say, she would need a registration certificate for a pleasure vessel of more than 24 meters in length – but the owner asserts that she has all the paperwork she needs.
The 1953-built Birger Jarl (Baltic Star) served for decades on routes in and around Scandinavia under multiple owners. In 2019, the aging ship was inspected and prohibited from sailing due to allegd deficiencies, but that has not kept her alongside the pier.
That year, shortly after Swedish regulators imposed a no-sail order, the vessel transited from Stockholm to Timra and back again. The next year, she transited to Timra yet again, where inspectors met her at the dock and questioned her master. He was charged, convicted and fined later that year for violating Sweden’s Ship Safety Act, despite his claim that the Birger Jarl is a leisure vessel and exempt from regulation.
On Monday, the Birger Jarl made another unlicensed trip, this time from Timra to Lunde – about 60 nm northeast up the coast, at the end of a narrow winding channel. Once again, Sweden’s coast guard has opened an investigation into potential regulatory violations in connection with the voyage, including the possibility of the commission of a crime.
The current owner, Leif-Ivan Karlsson, told SVT that “no certificates or permits are required” for the 300-foot, 600-passenger ship because she is now a recreational vessel. “I don’t care about the [Swedish] Coast Guard, they are wrong. This is not a cruise ship anymore,” he said.
The Swedish Coast Guard believes that regulations for large pleasure vessels apply, like the need for a measurement survey.