They wanted to reach the North Pole in Fridtjof Nansen’s footprints, but their expedition ended temporarily on Spitsbergen. The French adventurer Gilles Elkaim and his wife Alexia started their expedition last year in summer in Kirkenes with his sailing vessel Arktika (not to be confused with the local boat Artika II from Longyearbyen). A visit of Spitsbergen was actually not planned before 2018 – on the way back. Gilles Elkaim and Alexia Elkaim actually wanted to winter in the ice north of the New Siberian Islands, to continue the journey to the North Pole with dog sleds.
Bad weather and a damaged engine
Rough weather conditions and a damaged engine forced them in October last year to look for protection in the Duvefjord. The Duvefjord is strictly protected and a permit is required in advance for all travels there.
Gilles Elkaim on his boat Arktika – Image: Gilles Elkaim, published with kind permission
Spitsbergen’s governor -called Sysselmannen- said that she was only informed by reference to Elkaim’s travel blog about the stay of the Arktika in the Duvefjord. According to his own statement Elkaim had informed the authorities on Spitsbergen in time on October 8th 2016, but did not receive any reaction. On October 19th, the Arktika was towed to Longyearbyen by Spitsbergen’s authorities.
Since Elkaim did not want to pay a fine of 25,000 crowns, he ended up in front of the court. The Norwegian authorities even confiscated the passports of Elkaim and his wife so that they could not leave Spitsbergen. Elkaim has now been sentenced to 30,000 crowns (around 3,300 €) by the regional court Nord-Troms.
Word agains word
According to court the adventurer has violated several laws. The Arktika anchored several times between strictly protected islands between the 24th of August and the 19th of October. Elkaim had imported dogs without permission and did also not properly register their journey.
Elkaim, on the other hand, sees himself as a victim of Norwegian bureaucracy and complains that he has not been adequately listened to in the trial. He refers to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, according to which ships of all countries have the right to cross sea areas of other countries. The Convention also says that ships may be anchored in exceptional occurrences. In fact, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and Norwegian environmental protection laws are partly contradictory.
Elkaim does not accept the verdict and wants to appeal. He also complains that the nature reserve is extremely polluted with rubbish. He told the Norwegian state channel NRK on the phone: “I’m not a criminal. What is a crime about going ashore and collect garbage in an area that Norwegian authorities should have cleaned? What is the meaning of a nature reserve where the polar bear feeds from plastic?”
Plastic waste: Unfortunately no exception on Spitsbergen – Image: Gilles Elkaim, published with kind permission
Elkaim wants to stay in the Russian settlement Barentsburg until summer, where he was kindly accepted as he said. Then he want to travel further towards the North Pole. Hopefully without any engine damage.