Norwegian ambassador visits Gig Harbor: ‘It feels like home’

Posted on May 23rd, 2022 By:

The Norwegian ambassador to the United States visited Gig Harbor Sunday, remarking how similar the Northwest is to her homeland.

Anniken Krutnes, in the Puget Sound area last week for business, swung by the Maritime City at the invitation of Lise Kristiansen, a Gig Harbor resident who serves the ambassador as the Norwegian honorary consul for Alaska. Kristiansen, a dual citizen, also happens to be part of a group that’s finalizing a sister city arrangement between Gig Harbor and Bodø, Norway.

Norwegian Consulate in Alaska and Gig Harbor resident Lise Kristiansen, left, Norwegian ambassador Anniken Krutnes and Krutnes' husband Kjetiel.

Norwegian Consulate in Alaska and Gig Harbor resident Lise Kristiansen, left, Norwegian ambassador Anniken Krutnes and Krutnes’ husband Kjetiel.

“I came because I think Norway and Washington state have a lot in common and can work together on a lot of issues,” said Krutnes during an informal gathering of about a dozen people at the Heritage Distilling Co. tasting room.

Ferry similar regions

Norway is a maritime nation, occupying one of the longest coastlines in the world of about 63,000 miles on the North, Norwegian and Barents seas. Much travel in the land of fjords, like in Washington, is conducted on water. Norway is leading the way in electrification of its ferry fleet.

It launched the world’s first electric car ferry in 2015 and already one-third of its ferries are electric-powered. Washington State Ferries, which Krutnes met with last year, plans to begin building its first hybrid electric ferry and converting three others in 2023.

“We have a lot of know-how so we’re happy to share,” said Krutnes, who became ambassador in September 2020. “A greener maritime sector is something where both Norway and the state of Washington achieve agreement, electrification of ferries and lowering emissions in general.”

It’s not just ferries. Norway is Europe’s second-leading gas and oil producer behind Russia. Yet like Washington it gets most of its power from water. That has led to 70 percent of its vehicles being electric.

“Ninety-five percent of our electricity is hydro so it makes sense to drive electric cars,” Krutnes said.

Industry connections

While in Washington, Krutnes spoke about innovating for the green transition at the Nordic Innovation Summit at the National Nordic Museum in Ballard; met with Gov. Jay Inslee, an alternative energy proponent; and visited the Port of Tacoma and Boeing. She viewed a Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft similar to five that Norway has ordered to keep a closer eye on Russian submarines. Russian sub hub Murmansk is 67 miles from Norway’s northern border.

“They say we are NATO’s eyes and ears in the north, and those P-8s help us,” said Krutnes, who joined the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1994. She previously served as deputy director general of the Department of Security Policy and was Norway’s Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs. She also has served ambassadorships in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Norway has also received half of the 52 F-35 fighter jets that it ordered from the U.S. Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland are seeking to join Norway as NATO members.

Cultural connections

Krutnes rode as grand marshal in Ballard’s Norwegian Constitution Day parade on May 17.

“I’m surprised by all of the Norwegian heritage here,” she said. “I knew of them coming to Washington state, but I wasn’t expecting to see it. I do understand why Norwegians came here. It feels like home. You have the mountains, the water. People seem to enjoy outdoor life. That’s very noticeable. The importance of the maritime sectors. We actually live from the sea. That is a tradition we share, the fishing tradition.”

Gig Harbor remains proud of its fishing fleet, which Norwegian and Croatian settlers started more than a century ago. Norway, a country of 5.5 million people, catches (mostly cod) and farms (mostly salmon) enough fish every day for 42 million meals, Krutnes said.

Sister city arrangement nearing completion

Gig Harbor’s sister city arrangement with Bodø, a coastal village of 42,000 just north of the Arctic Circle, is nearing completion. Bob Anderson, then president of the North Gig Harbor Rotary, initiated the effort in 2020. He created a board of directors from members of the area’s three Rotary clubs, with him as chairman. More members were added later.

Bodø was recommended by Natalie Wimberley, whose family was stationed there while her Air Force pilot husband participated in a military exchange with the Royal Norwegian Air Force. They settled in Gig Harbor after he retired in 2017. She serves as vice president of the Peninsula School District board of directors.

Bodø's skyline

Bodø’s skyline Photo courtesy of Ernst Furuhatt /

On March 29, Wimberly, board president Lori Glover, superintendent Krestin Bahr, Heritage Distilling co-owner Jennifer Stiefel and Kristiansen traveled to Bodø to secure a partnership. They met with city, county and school leaders, and Rotary club members.

A few weeks ago, the group made a presentation about the to the City Council about the trip, which was partially funded by the Norwegian Consolate General in San Francisco.

‘An honor’

“We’re very grateful to the Norwegian government for investing in Gig Harbor,” said Stiefel, who’s of Norwegian ancestry and whose company helped to sponsor the “Heritage in the Harbor – Celebrating Norway” event at Harbor History Museum in December. “In Norway they only get one sister city, so it was an honor that they considered us.”

Gig Harbor last week sent a draft memorandum of understanding to Bodø. The Norwegian city will review it for changes and return it for approval. It must be approved by the city councils.

“Both mayors have indicated they would like to sign this agreement,” said Kristiansen, whose family hails from the town. “It’s so exciting. It’s one more opportunity to connect Gig Harbor and Norway together.”

Map of Norway

Map of Norway Courtesy of Gig Harbor Sister Cities