The new double calendar 2021 “Spitsbergen and Antarctica” is now available! Again, this is a real double calendar, with 24 photo pages rather than 12 photo pages with 12 empty back sides. And again, it is a wall calendar with spiral binding, available in two sizes, A3 (large) and A5 (small).
And you can save a lot of money by ordering more than one, because the price is lower for the second (and further) copies. Christmas is not far anymore 😉
36 crew members and several passengers on the Hurtigruten-ship MS Roald Amundsen were found to be infected with Covid-19 on Friday. The Roald Amundsen had made several expedition cruises from mainland Norway to Spitsbergen, but without visiting any of the settlements.
The ship is now in Tromsø in isolation. Crew and passengers are undergoing testing, quarantine and medical treatment as needed.
According to a press release from Hurtigruten, the company sees the reason for the outbreak in a combination of failure to follow internal rules on board and the growing number of infections in many countries. As a consequence, Hurtigruten has cancelled all cruises on MS Roald Amundsen, MS Spitsbergen and MS Fridtjof Nansen. Scheduled coastal traffic between Bergen and Kirkenes is not concerned.
Hurtigrutenship MS Spitsbergen in Longyearbyen: all cruises are cancelled until further notice because of the Covid-19-infections on the MS Roald Amundsen.
There were also two local Norwegian women on board during the latest cruise of the MS Roald Amundsen who had spent the last winter in the hut Bamsebu in Bellsund. They were dropped off again there during the cruise. Meanwhile, they were also tested for the Corona virus. The result: negative.
I wish all those who got infected a quick and complete recovery!
After the remarkable series of polar bear visits to Longyearbyen in December and January, it had been relatively calm for a while. But yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, two polar bears were seen in Hiorthhamn, opposite Longyearbyen, just 3.5 kilometres across Adventfjord. A mother and a first-year cub were walking across the tundra towards Adventdalen.
Polar bears in Hiorthhamn near Longyearbyen
(photo taken from a distance of 3.5 kilometres).
The Sysselmannen was soon on scene with a helicopter to make sure the bears would not come too close to Longyearbyen.
The polar bears in Hiorthhamn were soon accompanied by the Sysselmannen’s helicopter.
It was probably the extremely warm weather of the last weekend that now gives the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (SNSK) troubles with water in mine 7, the last Norwegian coal mine still in operation in Spitsbergen.
Water ingressions are not unusual in Spitsbergen’s coal mines, many of which are partly situated under glaciers. Mine 7 is close to the small ice cap Foxfonna which “provides” meltwater to the mine during the melting season, so pumps are routinely in operation. But the latest ingression went far beyond the capacities of the available pumps.
Water ingressions are not uncommon in the coal mines in Spitsbergen. Here, a boat is even kept available to move around in flooded areas (the photo is from the mine Svea Nord).
Mine 7 is currently anyway on plant holiday. The water ingress was discovered during a routine control on Sunday morning. Equipment and personell from Sveagruva and mainland Norway are now supposed to deal with the situation and return the mine back into productive condition. Coal production is scheduled to start up again, but this is likely to be delayed.
Coal from mine 7 is mainly used in Longyearbyen’s coal power plant. Another fraction is exported. According to the SNSK, there is enough coal in storage in Longyearbyen to feed the power plant 5-6 months.
The temperature display at the petrol station showed 23 degrees (centigrade) on Saturday afternoon. The official measurement was 21.7°C.
Summer heat beyond 21°C – that is very unusual for Longyearbyen. The highest temperature ever so far had been 21.3 degrees centigrade, measured on 16 July 1979. This record was broken on Saturday late afternoon, when the official temperature record went up to 21.7°C.
A record-breaking temperature of 21.7°C was measured on Saturday afternoon in Longyearbyen. The glaciers definitely lost a lot of ice during this weekend. Many tons of melted ice run off every minute here in the river in Longyearbyen.
A light breeze made the heat wave bearable, though. The outside areas of the restaurants were crowded, and it seems a safe guess that a record-breaking number of BBQs were operated in and near Longyearbyen on Saturday evening.
The record summer heat of 21.7°C may well haved resulted in a record-breaking number of BBQs going at the same time.
This year’s first two medium-sized expedition cruise ships have now started their season in Spitsbergen – in spite of all restrictions and difficulties connected to shipping in times of the Corona crisis. Yesterday (Friday, 17 July), Hurtigruten’s MS Spitsbergen started her first trip. This may not be too much of a surprise, as tourists from Scandinavian countries (expect Sweden) were allowed into Norway already from 15 June, and around that time the Norwegian government made first steps towards permitting ships with a capacity of up to 500 passengers to sail again in Spitsbergen’s waters. This was and is, in theory, valid for all ship owners, but in practice, it could well be understood as a “lex Hurtigruten”, or at least it is not a surprise that the Norwegian company is the first that is practically able to take advantage of it.
Ponant’s ship Le Boreal on 18 July as the first non-Norwegian cruiseship in the port of Longyearbyen.
And the company’s earlier drafts of the mandatory health safety plan is said to have had its weaknesses. According to Svalbardposten, the local disease control official had expressed beyond doubt to be unhappy about several issues. Ponant, however, seem to have improved their papers and the Sysselmannen have given their thumbs-up and Le Boreal is allowed to sail and operate several trips over a couple of weeks in Svalbard waters. Passengers are flown in and out of Longyearbyen with scheduled flights, as no charter flights are currently permitted at Longyearbyen airport.
There are, however, a couple of conditions that every company considering cruises in Spitsbergen currently has to deal with: amongst others, only half of the passenger capacity of any ship – 264 beds in case of the Le Boreal – is permitted to be used.
The Le Boreal passengers had to be tested negatively for Covid-19 prior to their departure from home and again before disembarkation in Reykjavik, for the first cruise that finished yesterday in Longyearbyen. In case of Covid-19 cases or suspicion on board, the ship has to sail to Tromsø and not to Longyearbyen. It will be interesting to follow the further development and the reaction of other companies, but it seems likely that many, especially those operating small ships, will find it difficult if not impossible to operate under these conditions, also considering economical aspects.
But there are, as always, exceptions to the rule: the small expedition ship Origo has already carried out her first trips in Spitsbergen. But she had spent several months of waiting at anchor for a chance to start sailing near Longyearbyen.
Unfortunately, but not really surprising, we also have to cancel our last Spitsbergen-voyage this year with SV Antigua (08-18 September 2020). Even though Norway will start to allow most European tourists into the country again, current health safety regulations in place to control the Corona/Covid 19 risk make it impossible to operate this voyage and other ones. A small ship in remote areas is not a good situation these days.
The Norwegian Ministry of economics and fisheries has communicated that tourists from most EU-countries will be allowed to travel to Norway again from 15 July. Today (10 July) the Norwegian institute for public health (Folkehelseinstitutt) has published a map which shows the various European countries in green or red, respectively. Tourists from “green countries” will be allowed to enter Norway from 15 July without special reason or permission. Citizens from Scandinavian countries except Sweden were already allowed into the country from 15 June.
This map is, however, to be updated at intervals of 14 days or at any time earlier if needed. Tourists from countries with higher or unclear infection rates may be faced with travel restrictions such as quarantine.
Not all EU-countries have made it onto the “green list”: Portugal, Luxembourg, several countries in southeast Europe and most parts of Sweden are bright red on the map. The example of Sweden shows that the Norwegian government may take decisions on a regional level: tourists from several provinces in south Sweden (Blekinge, Kronoberg and Skåne) may also travel to Norway without restrictions from 15 July, in contrast to the rest of the country.
Tourists from countries outside Europe are currently generally not allowed into Norway unless they have close relatives or a partner in the country, according to the Norwegian government.
Normally, on this site I write and publish articles and blog posts about things that have actually happened, and I try to keep it mostly in unemotional style. But the world isn’t normal these days, so this article/blog/whatever is a bit different.
It is about something that does not happen and it is latently emotional.
Yesterday, on 09 July, we would have boarded good old SV Antigua in Longyearbyen. About 30 passengers, probably quite excited, in good spirits and with high hopes and expectations. Ten crew: the Captain (probably Robert), mates, deckhand, galley and service, three guides – Alex, Kristina and me. Everybody had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time already, until the whole thing fell victim to the corona virus, as so much this weird year. 19 beautiful days in Spitsbergen – gone. Not just any kind of days. Spitsbergen under sail, that is always special, intense and rich with all sorts of experiences. On every trip, we see and experience stuff where I think “wow, how amazing is that …” and that is after almost 25 years of travelling Spitsbergen.
Spitsbergen with Antigua: would have started yesterday (9 July).
Nobody will ever know what we will actually have missed this summer on this trip and others that don’t happen now. But of course it is possible to dream and guess a bit. Let’s try to take it a little step up onto an informed level. As always, it starts with a look at weather forecast and icechart:
Marine weather forecast for Saturday (12 July).
Today (Friday), there would still have been a fair bit of wind on the west coast. Maybe not great for a first day on a ship, but it should be calm in Isfjord, albeit possibly a bit wet, at least during Friday night and Saturday early morning. I think we might have well spent our first day in there. There are so many fjords with an endless number of beautiful places there. Tempelfjord, Billefjord, Nordfjord with Ekmanfjord, Coraholmen and so on, Bohemanflya, … just to mention a few (click on the links for a bit of online travelling). The list is endless.
On Saturday, the wind on the west coast is supposed to turn south. I guess then we might have left Isfjord to set sail and a northerly course with fine sailing wind. The forecast indicates calm weather for a couple of days next week in the north, and then it is just a wonderful world to explore.
Marine weather forecast for Sunday (12 July).
And now a quick look at the ice chart, which is really an interesting one now. There is still a lot of drift ice in the east and northeast and many of the fjords, especially on Nordaustland, are still frozen solid. As it looks now, this trip would not have been a circumnavigation. This is, in times of climate change, not common for a trip that starts near mid July, but obviously not impossible. Of course it would have been exciting just to go and check it out, but it is also interesting to keep checking the ice chart every once in a while during the next couple of weeks and see what happens.
But then, have a good look at, say, Liefdefjord and Woodfjord! Open – probably mostly navigable, in other words – drift ice, with some larger ice fields, such as the yellow dot close to Reinsdyrflya, and solid (“fast”) ice in inner Woodfjord! We could certainly have spent a couple of great days there. And then on to Nordaustland and Hinlopen. The combination of drift ice, stunning scenery and a lot of wildlife, from guillemots to walrus, polar bears and probably whales would most likely have made for some unforgettable experiences.
Who knows what we might have done and seen the first day(s) in Isfjord? Just a few impressions from previous years. Could have been something like this. Or something completely different.
Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.
Woodfjord and Liefdefjord
Just a few possible impressions as we might have met them now in Woodfjord and Liefdefjord. And Spitsbergen’s north coast is, of course, much more than “just” that. There is also the Raudfjord, Wijdefjord, Sorgfjord … oh, well …
Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.
A lot of “might have” and “would” and so on. It is currently nothing but imagination and dreams. Unseen, not experienced, not lived. The 40 polar enthusiasts that should have met on a sailing ship to explore the far north, to share the excitment and fascination, will never meet in this combination. Sad.
So, fingers crossed that we will meet next year or in 2022 in Spitsbergen, or elsewhere between the north pole and the south pole!
With Arctica II in drift ice near Spitsbergen: we would have loved to do that in August. But it won’t happen because of the Corona crisis.
So, long story, short message: now we are sadly forced to cancel also our trip with the sailing boat Arctica II in August because of Corona. All participants will asap be contacted by the Geographische Reisegesellschaft.
Norway wants to open borders for tourists from Europe (Schengen area/European Economic Area) outside Scandinavia from 15 July. In a press release, the Norwegian government explains that there will still be restrictions: The Norwegian Folkehelseinstitutt (authoritiy for public health) will monitor the Corona development in relevant countries and regions. Tourists from areas with SARS-Coronavirus-2 (“Corona”) infections above a certain threshold will have to stay in quarantine for 10 days in Norway. Tourists who need to stay in quarantine and who want to travel to Spitsbergen have to to their quarantine on the Norwewian mainland and can only travel further on to Spitsbergen when they have done their time.
Also tourists from countries who do not monitor the development appropriately or who do not publish relevant data will have to expect such restrictions.
The Folkehelseinstitutt publishes a map that shows countries in green or red. Tourists from countries shown in green will be able to enter Norway without quarantine from 15 July (earlier for Scandinavian tourists). Currently, the map shows only Scandinavia. An updated version including all European countries that are part of the Schengen area or European Economic Area is expected for 10 July. It will be updated at least every 14 days.
Map of the Folkehelseinstitutt: tourists from green countries may enter Norway without quarantine. Currently only Scandinavia is shown, Europe will follow on 10 July.
Currently, only people with special reasons such as close family relationships, work or property may enter Norway under certain regulations (unless you are Scandinavian but not Swedish).
A polar bear was anaesthetised and flown out from the Longyearbyen area by the Sysselmannen earlier this year, on 30 Januar. The bear, a young female of only 62 kg, died during the flight. Shock caused by physical stress in combination with the anaesthetisation was later identified as the cause of death. The bear had been chased away from Longyearbyen by helicopter for more than two hours before it was put into deep sleep.
Now the case was criticised by Mattilsynet, the Norwegian authority for food safety, which is also responsible for animal welfare including anaesthetisation (immobilisation by means of medication) of wild animals, as Svalbardposten describes with a long article. This is something that happens often in Spitsbergen, mostly in connection with research, sometimes also when the police (Sysselmannen) handles polar bear near Longyearbyen. The Norwegian animal welfare law is also in force in Spitsbergen, but not so the animal health personell law (Dyrehelsepersonelloven). The application of its main principles is, however, demanded by the animal welfare law.
Mattilsynet has found several points of criticism, also mentioning a lack of competence. One point of general criticism is the lack of knowledge-based routines for catching (anaesthetising) polar bears; something that representatives of the Norwegian Polar Institute, which is managing the anaesthetisation, do not agree with. Both the Norwegian Polar Institute, represented by polar bear researcher Jon Aars (who was not involved in the operation on 30 January) and the Sysselmannen, represented by environmental officer Morten Wedege, have replied to the criticism in Svalbardposten.
Another point of criticism is the lack of consideration of the physical parameters of this particular bear before the anaesthetisation. Is is in the nature of the process that a polar bear can not be weighed before anaesthetisation. The one that died in the given case weighed only 62 kg and it appears likely that this may have contributed to the lethal outcome. Additionally, there was no veterinary-medical emergency equipment available and no associated competence to handle any emergency that might occur under anaesthetisation. According to the reply to the criticism by the Norwegian Polar Institute, this should, based on experience from thousands of anaesthetisations of polar bears, not have necessary. But scientific anaesthetisations under much more controlled circumstances, in daylight, with smaller helicopters and as a matter of choice in each individual case, so one may ask if this kind of experience is a good basis for decisionmaking in a case like the one given here.
But this is, as far as known, not further considered by Mattilsynet. Responsible region leader in north Norway Hilde Haug emphasizes that it is their main concern to make sure that such cases do not happen again by improving relevant routines. In case of future recurrence, Haug does not want to exclude use of legally binding steps.
Young polar bear together with its mother. The little bear was about 20 months old at the time the picture was taken and its weight was likely well above 60 kg.
In the Svalbardposten article, two veterinarians give some interesting insight. It is these two who come into question as vets who have prescribed the medication that was used to anaesthetise („immobilize“) the bear on 30 January. But this did not happen in connection with the given case: because of the regular use of the drug, mostly in connection with research and occasionally in the context of police operations, the Norwegian Polar Institute has a stock in Longyearbyen. In principle, the prescribing veterinarian remains responsible for the use of the drug in each case, but he/she is usually in practice not involved. Legally, a vet can let a helper handle the actual use of the drug if responsible. But none of the two vets was contacted in connection with the operation on 30 January, and one of them states that he would have denied use of a drug prescribed by him in this case.
It is, however, uncertain who of the two actually prescribed the batch that was used then. Both assume that it was not from their respective prescription.
It should also be noticed that shooting the bear directly would have been a likely alternative, from the perspective of the Sysselmannen.
It is another aspect that the actual medication may have been out of date, but this is unlikely, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute, and unlikely to have made a difference, had it indeed been the case.
In the press releases during and after the incident, the Sysselmannen emphasized repeatedly the presence and direct involvement of „polar-bear professional specialist competence“ provided by the Norwegian Polar Institute in the operation. No names or professions are given, but veterinarians are usually not directly involved. Both veterinarians who prescribed the drug expressed that they would have appreciated to be contacted, but this did not happen. Even if it may be impossible to fly a vet up to Longyearbyen from Tromsø or elsewhere in mainland Norway in time for such an operation, advise by telephone could have made a difference.
Everybody involved knows the legal and practical complexity of such a situation and the difficulty of making decisions under time pressure and in a situation of stress. But it appears fair to conclude: anaesthetising a large animal such as a polar bear just after having exposed it to great physical stress over more than 2 hours, without knowing its weight and physical condition and without having veterinary-medical emergency equipment and a veterinarian available – that is not exactly what many will consider responsible handling of a strictly protected animal.
Re-opening Spitsbergen for land-based tourism is a process that has already begun. Since 01 June, visitors from mainland Norway can travel to Spitsbergen again, other Scandinavian countries (except Sweden) will follow soon, on 15 June.
At the same time it has, so far, been mentioned that “coastal cruises” over several days would take some more time because of their specific challenges. First steps have now been taken to re-open for this kind of travelling: according to a press release by the Norwegian ministry of justice, which is responsible for Spitsbergen, ships may start cruising Spitsbergen again now under several conditions. Only ships with a maximum capacity of 500 passengers are permitted and they may only use 50 % of their capacity. The theoretical maximum number of passengers on board is thus limited to 250. Only passengers from countries whose inhabitants can travel freely to Norway including Spitsbergen are allowed: this is currently mainland Norway and soon also Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
“Coastal cruises” in Spitsbergen: now possible again – under certain conditions.
As all tour operators who are running land-based tourism, a hygiene and health safety plan needs to be prepared and approved by the authorities for every ship, based on general Corona safety guidelines which have been prepared by Svalbard Reiseliv, a local tourism organisation, together with relevant authorities. It remains to be seen which ships will be able to meet the requirements in terms of minimum distances etc.
Ships have to be prepared to sail directly to Tromsø in case of a suspected Covid-19 infection on board, rather than to Longyearbyen.
Passengers from countries other than the above-mentioned Scandinavian ones will need some more patience. The Norwegian government has announced to come with information regarding a possible re-opening of Spitsbergen for citizens and residents from “neighbouring” European countries until 20 July.
Ship-owners and tour operators will have to see if they can actually operate with a maximum capacity of 50 %.
A team from the ship had gone ashore on Phippøya, which belongs to Sjuøyane in northernmost Svalbard, to check the site before passengers were scheduled to come ashore. The dramatic incident ended with one person receiving minor head injuries and the bear being shot. Passengers were not ashore during the incident.
Polar bear on Phippsøya, a common landing site, in mid July 2018. It was very likely this bear that was shot in the same place in late July.
Almost two years have gone past now and one may wonder what came out of the whole thing. The disappointing intermediate result is that there is no result yet, as Svalbardposten was told on request by the Sysselmannen. The case was originally handled by the Sysselmannen and then it went to relevant authorities in mainland Norway for further legal treatment and from there in late 2019 back to the Sysselmannen. And there it still is today. The large capacities absorbed by the Corona crisis are said to have played a role in recent months.
So while we still have to wait for confirmed information, we can speculate a bit about some factors that may have contributed to the tragic outcome: It is certainly possible to not see a polar bear that is in the vicinity in the uneven terrain of that particular place on Phippsøya even if one is alert. There was a carcass on the beach at that time, and the bear had been returning to that carcass repeatedly over a longer period to feed on it. The carcass was lying in the area where landings are commonly made, but it was hard to see from the distance.
If one happens to go ashore close to the carcass, then it is certainly possible that a bear that is in the area, resting and waiting for the appetite to return, shows a rapid and aggressive reaction.
Again: this is speculation, based on local knowledge and experience, including a sighting of a polar bear in this given place in mid-July 2018, which was most likely that particular bear that was shot soon thereafter. Meanwhile, we can curiously await the report from the Norwegian authorities to learn more about what actually happened during the incident.
A first report has been published that sheds some light on the tragic avalanche accident that happened on 20 February on Fridtjovbreen. The report is written by a group of people from the Arctic Safety Centre at UNIS, the avalanche group of the local Red Cross and local avalanche observers of the Norwegian avalanche warning system, varsom.no; it was published on varsom.no. It is not a report by the Sysselmannen or other legal or governmental authority and it does not include a legal assessment. The point of the report is to understand the accident and to draw conclusions to improve safety out in the field.
On 20 February, a group of 7, including two guides from the Russian Arctic Travel Company Grumant, left Barentsburg, heading for the glacier front of Fridtjovbreen, south of Barentsburg in Van Mijenfjord. The group made a stop at the southeastern slope of Marcussenfjellet on the higher part of Fridtovbreen to visit a meltwater cave. The cave is very close to the steep slope of Marcussenfjellet and a terrain depression between the cave and the mountain was used to park the snow mobiles. The first three snow mobiles had already stopped when the avalanche went down. Two persons were completely covered by the snow masses and two others partly. The three remaining persons were not caught by the avalanche.
The volume of the avalanche is estimated to have been near 10,000 cubic metres, the collapsed snow area on the slope was 13,000 square metres.
The two persons who were completely under snow died. According to an official press release (Sysselmannen), the two victims were Sascha Brandt (39) and Magdalena Katarina Zakrzewski (40), both from Germany.
One of the two victims was covered by half a metre of snow. This person was dug out after 20 minutes. The other one was under two metres of snow. In this case, it took one hour. The guides and other group members used avalanche probes and snow shovels to recover the victims.
The group did not have any avalanche transceivers/avalanche beacons.
Alarming the rescue forces took time because the satellite phone that the group was equipped with was on one of the snow mobiles that were covered with snow (there is no mobile phone coverage in this area). Finally, the second guide could use an InReach to send a message to Barentsburg, from where the Sysselmannen in Longyearbyen was informed. The rescue helicopter could not land on location due to poor weather. It took two hours from the emergency call and until the rescue forces arrived. The doctor who came as part of the rescue team could only declare the two victims dead.
Beautiful, but also dangerous: mountain slope at Fridtjovbreen
Snowfall, wind and fluctuating temperatures during the weeks before the accident had contributed to the general avalanche risk: several layers of firn with poor bonding capabilities were under a layer of fresh, wind-blown snow. The Norwegian avalanche warning service (varsom.no, link above) had issued a level 2 warning (moderate risk; the highest level is 4).
One of the conclusions of the reports is that the presence of the group, with the impact of the snow mobiles on the snow, had triggered the avalanche.
As general recommendations, the report points out that all members of a snow mobile group should have avalanche equipment (specifically avalanche transceivers/beacons, snow shovel, avalanche probe) and everybody should be trained in the use of the equipment. Ideally, this should also be the case for tours in easy, open terrain, where avalanche-prone slopes can be kept at a safe distance, according to the report. But it is especially important for tours in complex terrain, closer to avalanche-prone slopes. The terrain of the tour from Barentsburg to the front of Fridtjovbreen is generally easy and in open terrain, but things are different for the deviation from the common route to the ice cave close to Marcussenfjellet.
As mentioned: the report in question is an evaluation of the incident by avalanche experts with local knowledge and not a legal assessment. This will be made by Norwegian authorities and it is currently still in process and not yet published.