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Yearly Archives: 2011 − News & Stories

Eas­tern Sval­bard

The dis­cus­sion about a new admi­nis­tra­ti­on plan for eas­tern Sval­bard, poten­ti­al­ly inclu­ding clo­sing lar­ger are­as for the public, has made a step fur­ther. A working group of the Sys­sel­man­nen has pro­du­ced a paper that sta­tes that »cur­rent or future rese­arch in eas­tern Sval­bard is not nega­tively influen­ced by other local acti­vi­ty in the area as of today. That East Sval­bard is a natu­re reser­ve does alre­a­dy stron­gly regu­la­te traf­fic in the area.« (Manage­ment plan for eas­tern Sval­bard, Report of the working group Rese­arch and Edu­ca­ti­on (Nor­we­gi­an), Sys­sel­man­nen). A real defi­ni­ti­on for the term »refe­rence area« is not pro­du­ced, a real sci­en­ti­fic need for such are­as that are clo­sed to any traf­fic (other than sel­ec­ted sci­en­tists) can­not be defi­ned and is not clai­med by rese­ar­ches.

Nevert­hel­ess it is sug­gested to clo­se seve­ral lar­ge are­as in eas­tern Sval­bard as »refe­rence are­as«, to which only sel­ec­ted sci­en­tists that work on rese­arch are­as with rele­van­ce for admi­nis­tra­ti­on and poli­tics have access. The map below gives an over­view of the sel­ec­ted are­as.

Clo­sing the­se are­as would have only minor impact on expe­di­ti­on crui­sing.

As can be expec­ted, is the sug­gested ver­si­on of the manage­ment plan met with strong cri­ti­zism by inha­bi­tants and local poli­ti­ci­ans in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, local tour ope­ra­tors and in the sci­en­ti­fic world, such as UNIS:

  • »It seems as if aut­ho­ri­ties want to make peo­p­le deli­bera­te­ly tired (by means of the long dura­ti­on of the pro­cess). … clo­sing so lar­ge are­as seems abso­lut­e­ly unneces­sa­ry. Within the exis­ting regu­la­ti­ons, the Sys­sel­man­nen has alre­a­dy far rea­ching pos­si­bi­li­ties to limit traf­fic in the natu­re reser­ves in eas­tern Sval­bard.« This is said by Hein­rich Eggen­fell­ner, second chair­man of Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re (the local par­lia­ment) to Sval­bard­pos­ten (39/2011). Eggen­fell­ner assu­mes that the pro­cess is main­ly dri­ven by hig­her admi­nis­tra­ti­ve levels in Oslo, which stron­gly influence the working group of the Sys­sel­man­nen: »my impres­si­on is as if the who­le pro­cess is con­trol­led by the admin­stra­ti­ve body within the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te and the Direc­to­ra­te for natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on. They are not in line with the sci­en­tists, so the who­le things seems rather absurd.«
  • The lack­ing sci­en­ti­fic defi­ni­ti­on of »refe­rence are­as« and the lack­ing reasons for a real need for such are­as are cri­ti­ci­zed, and so is the miss­ing inclu­si­on of fishing acti­vi­ties in the plan, while tou­rism and lar­ge parts of the sci­en­ti­fic world are sup­po­sed to be kicked out.
  • The cur­rent sug­ges­ti­on does threa­ten the foun­da­ti­ons for the exis­tance of UNIS, the local uni­ver­si­ty in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, accor­ding to its direc­tor Gun­nar Sand. UNIS does lar­ge­ly work with pri­ma­ry rese­arch and edu­ca­ti­on, both at a first glan­ce not neces­s­a­ri­ly rele­vant for admi­nis­tra­ti­on and poli­tics. Sand also ques­ti­ons the Sys­sel­man­nens com­pe­tence to deter­mi­ne what kind of rese­arch is rele­vant, on the long term, also (but not only) for admi­nis­tra­ti­on.
  • The owner of this web­site and aut­hor of this arc­tic­le agrees that are­as, espe­ci­al­ly lar­ger ones, should not be clo­sed unless the­re is reason to do so such as real sci­en­ti­fic or envi­ron­men­tal needs.

The pro­cess is ongo­ing, a final decis­i­on and fol­lo­wing legis­la­ti­on will need fur­ther time, pos­si­bly until late 2012.

Sug­gested so-cal­led »refe­rence are­as« in eas­tern Sval­bard.
Map source: Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, modi­fied by Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Eastern Svalbard

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten

Visa and pass­port requi­re­ments

Many tou­rists do not know that Spits­ber­gen (Sval­bard) is, oppo­sed to main­land Nor­way, not part of the Schen­gen trea­ty sys­tem. Accor­din­gly, if you need a visa to visit the Schen­gen area, then you will also need a visa to fly from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to Nor­way, even if you are just on a return jour­ney from a shorter trip. As a result, when you app­ly for a visa at home to prepa­re a jour­ney from out­side Schen­gen area to Sval­bard, it is advi­sa­ble to app­ly for two visa rather than only one, so you can enter Nor­way when coming back from Spits­ber­gen wit­hout dif­fi­cul­ties. If neces­sa­ry, you can also get a visa from the Sys­sel­man­nen.

Remem­ber that you will also need to show a pass­port or natio­nal ID card when tra­vel­ling to and from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Only Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens are allo­wed to use, for exam­p­le, a dri­ving licen­se. Non-Nor­we­gi­an flight pas­sen­gers have been denied access to their flight from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to Nor­way becau­se they did not car­ry pass­port or ID card.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port, sin­ce ear­ly 2011 with pass­port con­trol.

Visa and passport requirements - Longyearbyen airport

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (3611), Sys­sel­man­nen

Polar bear alarm fence

When cam­ping in Spits­ber­gen, it is com­mon and makes sen­se to secu­re the camp against polar bears with an alarm fence (Nor­we­gi­an: snu­b­le­bluss), using trip­wires and small explo­si­ve devices. The most relia­ble ver­si­on NM4 comes from Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry sources, but is not available any­mo­re for legal reasons. The fol­lower (M2) is con­side­red not relia­ble and safe enough to be used in the field for polar bear pro­tec­tion. As a con­se­quence, the­re are curr­ent­ly almost no alarm sys­tems available in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to secu­re camps against polar bears.

Next to the obvious safe­ty aspect, the­re is a deba­te to make tech­ni­cal sys­tems for pro­tec­tion of camps against bears legal­ly man­da­to­ry. It still needs to be defi­ned what such “tech­ni­cal sys­tems” might be, but alarm fen­ces are at least an obvious part of any tech­ni­cal alarm sys­tem. The Sys­sel­man­nen is awa­re that it is dif­fi­cult to make a sys­tem man­da­to­ry that is not available on the mar­ket and is try­ing to con­tri­bu­te in fin­ding a solu­ti­on, but so far wit­hout suc­cess.

Under the fatal polar bear attack on August 05 in Tem­pel­fjord, a fai­ling alarm fence con­tri­bu­ted to the desas­ter.

In the UK, a sys­tem is available from Arc­tic Limi­t­ed.

Polar bear alarm fence of the old type (NM4), which is hard­ly available any­mo­re.


Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten (3611), Sys­sel­man­nen

Tou­rism con­trol during 2011 sea­son

The Sysselmannen’s field inspec­tors have visi­ted 85 ships and boats during the 2011 sum­mer sea­son, main­ly on the west coast, but also in more remo­te regi­ons inclu­ding Hin­lo­pen. Per­mits, ship papers and was­te manage­ment rou­ti­nes are among­st what the field inspec­tors check rou­ti­ne­ly. Addi­tio­nal­ly, pre­sence of aut­ho­ri­ties is shown to all visi­tors, who are encou­ra­ged to com­ply with rele­vant laws and regu­la­ti­ons and to move careful­ly in the Spits­ber­gen envi­ron­ment. Con­trols also include camps and rese­arch acti­vi­ties.

The inspec­tors were in touch with 2403 per­sons and had only two com­plaints: one group had estab­lished their camp in in Gru­mant­by­en (cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge and accor­din­gly pro­tec­ted). Ano­ther group had cut drai­na­ge tren­ches around their tents and left them at depar­tu­re. The ope­ra­tor was reques­ted to con­duct a clean-up of the site.

Feld­in­spek­to­ren des Sys­sel­man­nen im Mag­da­le­nefjord, Juli 2011.

Tourism control during 2011 season - Magdalenefjord

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen


Seve­ral cases of rabies have been found near Lon­gye­ar­by­en within a week: First, the virus was found in a polar fox that had atta­cked a dog. A few days later, two reinde­er which were appar­ent­ly part­ly para­ly­zed were shot and found to be infec­ted with rabies. As far as known, this is the first time the virus has infec­ted ano­ther spe­ci­es bey­ond polar foxes in Spits­ber­gen. Rabies is a fatal dise­a­se also for humans, and the aut­ho­ri­ties request the public to be accor­din­gly careful:

  • Avo­id all cont­act with living or dead ani­mals,
  • Wash hands careful­ly after acci­den­tal cont­act,
  • Report to the Sys­sel­mann imme­dia­te­ly in case of poten­ti­al infec­tions of ani­mals or humans,
  • Curr­ent­ly, dogs are not allo­wed to be off-leash and wit­hout super­vi­si­on when out­side.

This reinde­er is just res­t­ing. Other ones were recent­ly found to be infec­ted with rabies.


Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Polar bear attack in Tem­pel­fjord III

The polar bear that has atta­cked the Eng­lish camp in Tem­pel­fjord, lea­ving one 17-year young man dead and seve­ral ones inju­red, was an old, mal-nutrio­ned ani­mal that suf­fe­r­ed from seve­re tooth­ache. Accor­ding to spe­cia­lists, it is unknown if pain makes bears more aggres­si­ve but it is safe to assu­me that star­ving bears are likely to be more dan­ge­rous than well-fed ones.

What is known is that all tech­ni­cal safe­ty means fai­led to work in Tem­pel­fjord: The alarm fence did not trig­ger, and both signal pis­tol and rif­le fai­led as well.

The issue of the alarm fence has been mat­ter of deba­te for some time, regar­ding both relia­bli­ty and avai­la­bi­li­ty. The best sys­tem is of mili­ta­ry ori­gin, but soon out of stock in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Retail­ers and Sys­sel­man­nen have tried to get access to more sup­pli­es, but so far wit­hout suc­cess.

The ques­ti­on is why the rif­le fai­led during the first four attempts to fire it. One opti­on is incor­rect hand­ling of the safe­ty pin. Next to the posi­ti­ons »safe« and »fire«, rif­les of the type Mau­ser, as the one used in Tem­pel­fjord, have a third posi­ti­on, which allows to repeat, but not to fire. If the safe­ty pin was acci­den­tal­ly in this posi­ti­on, then any attempt to fire and repeat would only result in emp­ty­ing the magasi­ne wit­hout actual­ly firing, as hap­pen­ed in the camp. If this is the reason for what hap­pen­ed, is at the pre­sent time spe­cu­la­ti­ve.

Only when an alre­a­dy inju­red group lea­der mana­ged to find one of the car­tridges on the ground and re-loa­ded the rif­le, he mana­ged to shoot the bear with one shot from a clo­se distance, thus pre­ven­ting even grea­ter dama­ge.

Rif­les for polar bear pro­tec­tion. Mau­sers midd­le and right.

Polar bear attack in Tempelfjord III - Rifles for polar bear protection.

Dead­ly Polar bear attack II

The fatal attack of a polar bear that led to the death of a 17-year old on Fri­day (August 05) took place in the ear­ly mor­ning hours while the group was still asleep, thus coming as a total sur­pri­se. The very aggres­si­ve bear atta­cked a tent (seve­ral ones?), kil­ling one per­son and inju­ring ano­ther four, two out of the­se serious­ly in the face.

The bear was a male weig­hing 250 kg.

Next to shock and the sad­ness about the loss of a per­son, the ques­ti­on of how the dead­ly attack could hap­pen remains to be ans­we­red. We need to wait until fur­ther details will be published befo­re final con­clu­si­ons can be drawn regar­ding the situa­ti­on and its impli­ca­ti­ons for risk assess­ment and safe­ty mea­su­res.

Gene­ral­ly spea­king, when cam­ping in polar bear coun­try it is important:

  • put up a trip wire (alarm fence) around the camp with suf­fi­ci­ent distance from the tents. A cor­rect set­up is important to make the sys­tem work well. You should, howe­ver, bear in mind that this tech­ni­cal mea­su­re is known to have fai­led befo­re and bears have been seen just step­ping over or kree­ping under the wire.
  • it is bet­ter to have a polar dog (sledge dog) who will warn you in case a polar bear is approa­ching the camp during the night.
  • or to keep careful watch night watch, if the group size allows this.
  • avo­id cam­ping at expo­sed sites such as near the shore or on small islands.
  • food, espe­ci­al­ly fresh items and meat, should not be stored insi­de tents.
  • even if all safe­ty mea­su­res are careful­ly and cor­rect­ly appli­ed, a small risk will always remain as always in life. Cam­ping in polar bear coun­try will never be com­ple­te­ly risk-free, just taking part in car traf­fic whe­re it is com­mon to accept a (small) remai­ning risk that can­not be con­trol­led by the indi­vi­du­al.

Cam­ping in polar bear coun­try. The risk of a poten­ti­al­ly dan­ge­rous polar bear visit can be mini­mi­zed, but never redu­ced to abso­lu­te zero.

Deadly Polar bear attack II - Camping in polar bear country

P.S. last offi­ci­al state­ments con­firm that the alarm mines did not explo­de when the polar bear ente­red the camp. So far, the reason for this is unknown.

Dead­ly polar bear attack in Tem­pel­fjord

In the ear­ly mor­ning of August 05, the­re has been a tra­gi­cal polar bear attack on a group of peo­p­le in Tem­pel­fjord. For the first time sin­ce 1996, a per­son was kil­led, ano­ther four were inju­red. The inju­red peo­p­le are bet­ween 16 and 29 years old, the kil­led per­son was 17 years young. The inju­red ones are in medi­cal tre­at­ment in Trom­sø.

The polar bear was shot.

Fur­ther details are not yet known.

Beau­tiful, but also dan­ge­rous: polar bear.

Deadly polar bear attack in Tempelfjord - data-lazy-src=

Pro­blems with online boo­king sys­tem

The online boo­king sys­tem of the asso­ciac­tion of local tour ope­ra­tors in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has recent­ly been upgraded, but does not work as expec­ted. As a result, espe­ci­al­ly small com­pa­nies have expe­ri­en­ced los­ses of 60-70%, in one case up to 95%. Some are afraid of serious con­se­quen­ces for the future of their com­pa­nies, often run by only one per­son, who­se eco­no­mic­al sur­vi­val in some cases depen­ded on taking exter­nal paid jobs.

Major sup­pli­ers, who enjoy bet­ter visi­bi­li­ty on the mar­ket also through other chan­nels, are faced with com­pa­ra­tively minor pro­blems.

The tour operator’s socie­ty, lead by the direc­tor of the lar­gest local play­er, rejects cri­ti­cism and makes the sup­pli­er of the soft­ware respon­si­ble. It is also said that not all of the smal­ler com­pa­nies have made their home­work during the pro­cess.

Big­ger ope­ra­tors who own hotels in Lon­gye­ar­by­en may bene­fit from the pro­blems with the online boo­king sys­tem.

Problems with online booking system - Polar Hostel

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten 6/2011

Huge demand for Lon­gye­ar­by­en-coal

The annu­al coal pro­duc­tion in mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en is near 75,000 tons, of which 50,000 are expor­ted, main­ly to the Ger­man mar­ket. The qua­li­ty of the coal makes it a sought-after resour­ce in the metall­ur­gic indus­try. In May, Ger­man com­pa­nies even char­te­red an addi­tio­nal coal freigh­ter and time-con­sum­ing ship­ping ope­ra­ti­ons despi­te of a pier and coal cra­ne that were dama­ged during a win­ter storm, to get in extra coal.

Mine chef Håvard Dyr­kol­botn was quo­ted say­ing „wit­hout coal from mine 7, no Mer­ce­des on the mar­ket.“

Equip­ment near mine 7.

Huge demand for Longyearbyen-coal - Gruve 7

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten 6/2011

Polar bear den­ning sites on Kong Karls Land

During 4 weeks of field work on the island of Kong­søya that belongs to Kong Karls Land in the far east of Spits­ber­gen, field workers coun­ted at least 13 dens whe­re fema­le polar bears had given birth to their off­spring a few months ear­lier. In 2009, at least 25 dens were found. The lower num­bers of 2011 were expec­ted and are explai­ned with the ice-free waters that sur­roun­ded Kong Karls Land in late 2010, making the litt­le archi­pe­la­go more dif­fi­cult to reach for the bears. It is not known if the pregnant bears went to alter­na­ti­ve sites else­whe­re.

Kong Karls Land is one of the most important den­ning are­as for polar bears in the who­le arc­tic and may only be visi­ted with spe­cial per­mis­si­on.

Kong Karls Land in drift ice.

Polar bear denning sites on Kong Karls Land

Source: Nor­we­gi­an polar insti­tu­te

Sys­sel­man­nen recom­mends new coal mine

The new mine that the Nor­we­gi­an coal mining com­pa­ny SNSK is plan­ning at Lun­ckef­jel­let, bet­ween Reind­a­len and Sveagru­va, has taken a major step towards its rea­liza­ti­on: After a public hea­ring and inter­nal con­side­ra­ti­on, the Sys­sel­man­nen has recom­men­ded the pro­ject for appr­oval under cer­tain con­di­ti­ons. The final decis­i­on will be made by the Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal minis­try.

With the new mine, SNSK wants to con­ti­nue mining at Sveagru­va bey­ond 2013. The coal seams curr­ent­ly mined are now dimi­nis­hing both in quan­ti­ty and qua­li­ty. The new pro­ject will include a road bet­ween the sett­le­ment Sveagru­va and Lun­ckef­jel­let across gla­cia­ted ter­rain.

The Sys­sel­man­nen recom­mends the fol­lo­wing envi­ron­men­tal con­di­ti­ons:

  • After com­ple­ting mining, all instal­la­ti­ons etc. are to be remo­ved and the untouch­ed wil­der­ness cha­rac­ter is to be res­to­red.
  • Con­trol of dust emis­si­ons.
  • Ship­ping wit­hout use of hea­vy oil.
  • Dis­tur­ban­ce of wild­life and pol­lu­ti­on of near-by Nor­dens­ki­öld Land Natio­nal Park are to be avo­ided.
  • Strict con­trol on use of che­mi­cals.
  • Moni­to­ring, con­trol and report­ing sche­mes.

Sysselmannen recommends new coal mine

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Cos­ts for search and res­cue

The num­ber of SAR (search and res­cue) ope­ra­ti­ons car­ri­ed out annu­al­ly by the Sys­sel­man­nen and Red Cross has increased to 60-80. Less carefull plan­ning, poten­ti­al­ly due to the avai­la­bi­li­ty of modern com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on tech­no­lo­gy (satel­li­te pho­ne etc) may have con­tri­bu­ted to this deve­lo­p­ment.

Non-resi­dents are obli­ged to app­ly for per­mis­si­on for visits to most parts of Sval­bard. Insu­rance cover for poten­ti­al SAR cos­ts is com­pul­so­ry to obtain any per­mis­si­on. In prac­ti­ce, the Sys­sel­man­nen has, so far, usual­ly not clai­med cos­ts back from the res­cued person(s). As the cos­ts have increased with the num­ber of ope­ra­ti­ons, the bill from now on not be paid any­mo­re by the Nor­we­gi­an tax pay­er, but by tho­se respon­si­ble for the ope­ra­ti­on. This has, in theo­ry, alre­a­dy been the case, but it has usual­ly not been appli­ed, a prac­ti­ce that has now been announ­ced to be chan­ged. Most SAR ope­ra­ti­ons invol­ve heli­c­op­ter flights, which quick­ly invol­ves a bill of 100.000 NOK (curr­ent­ly ca 12.700 Euro) or more.

This appli­es for any trips that requi­re per­mis­si­on and insu­rance. Whe­re this does not app­ly, that is for tou­rists within admi­nis­tra­ti­on area 10 (Nor­dens­ki­öld Land, Dick­son Land, Brøg­ger­hal­vøya), the res­cued person(s) will also in the future have to car­ry the cos­ts only in cases of gross care­less­ness.

SAR-heli­c­op­ter: quite expen­si­ve.

Costs for search and rescue - Helicopter

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Record deple­ti­on of arc­tic ozone

Excep­tio­nal­ly strong cold in the hig­her atmo­sphe­re has in recent weeks led to the loss of about half of the stra­to­sphe­ric ozone. The cold as such is a natu­ral con­di­ti­on, but it inforces pro­ces­ses that lead to the des­truc­tion of ozone whe­re man-made “ozone kil­lers” such as FCKWs are invol­ved. This includes sub­s­tance that have been ban­ned for years, as they remain in the atmo­sphe­re for a long time befo­re they are final­ly bro­ken down.

As the polar air mixes with air mas­ses in lower lati­tu­des, sci­en­tists recom­mend to pay spe­cial atten­ti­on to sun pro­tec­tion against UV radia­ti­on during the coming spring.

Some pro­ces­ses in the arc­tic atmo­sphe­re have very plea­sant results, other ones less so

Record depletion of arctic ozone - Varfluesjoen

Source: Sval­bard Sci­ence Forum

Father puts hims­elf and his two sons at risk

A Swe­dish fami­ly has shown an ama­zing ran­ge of opti­ons to do it the wrong way: The fami­ly, father and two sons (11 and 20 years old), came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en as indi­vi­du­al tou­rists and ren­ted snow scoo­ters and satel­li­te pho­ne (at least!) for a pri­va­te trip to Barents­burg. As even groups accom­pa­nied by gui­des had deci­ded to can­cel their trips to Barents­burg and take alter­na­ti­ve rou­tes becau­se of adver­se wea­ther con­di­ti­ons, the fami­ly recei­ved war­nings in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to chan­ge their plans, pre­fer­a­b­ly in favour of a gui­ded tour. They went any­way, spent a night in Barents­burg and came into trou­ble on the way back – again after igno­ring a war­ning and advice to wait in Barents­burg for bet­ter wea­ther.

The 3 got stuck in Sem­mel­da­len and cal­led for help. Res­cue teams tried repea­ted­ly with snow scoo­ters and heli­c­op­ter, but had to turn around becau­se of dif­fi­cult con­di­ti­ons. Only when the wea­ther impro­ved slight­ly near mid­night, could res­cuers reach the fami­ly, who was alre­a­dy affec­ted by wet and cold.

The Sys­sel­man­nen stron­gly recom­mends indi­vi­du­al tou­rists wit­hout expe­ri­ence to join gui­ded tours and to con­sider wea­ther fore­cast, advice and war­nings from aut­ho­ri­ties and locals careful­ly. As the fami­ly deci­ded to igno­re the­se com­mon sen­se rules com­ple­te­ly, they may have to face the bill for the search and res­cue ope­ra­ti­on, which is esti­ma­ted around 15.000 Euro.

Should be taken serious­ly: win­ter arc­tic

Father puts himself and his two sons at risk - Podbeschniggbreen

Adden­dum: In a let­ter to the edi­tor (Sval­bard­pos­ten 10/2011), the fami­ly sta­tes that, befo­re start­ing the return trip from Barents­burg, the Sys­sel­man­nen advi­sed that they should try, rather than wai­ting for bet­ter wea­ther in Barents­burg. They also wri­te that tech­ni­cal fail­ure of one of the snow­mo­bi­les and bad bat­tery per­for­mance of the ren­ted satel­li­te pho­ne con­tri­bu­ted to the wor­sening of the situa­ti­on, final­ly lea­ding to a call for help.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen


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