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Monthly Archives: September 2020 − News


Lon­gye­ar­by­en is shrin­king. And: the bank does not always win

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is chan­ging during the coro­na cri­sis. The popu­la­ti­on is shrin­king: 273 peop­le have left sin­ce ear­ly March, accord­ing to offi­cial sta­tis­tics. In addi­ti­on comes an unknown num­ber of peop­le who have never regis­tered or who did not give noti­ce of their depar­tu­re.

Many peop­le lost their jobs when the coro­na cri­sis hit hard in spring and sum­mer, and many can’t afford Longyearbyen’s high living expen­ses any­mo­re and moved back to their coun­tries of ori­gin. The Spits­ber­gen trea­ty grants citi­zens from many coun­tries free access, but the draw­back is that Nor­way does not sup­ply Svalbard’s non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants with any social secu­ri­ty regard­less how long they have lived the­re. The­re was a one-time finan­cial aid by the government in spring becau­se of the coro­na situa­ti­on, which also made it dif­fi­cult for many to move away, but it was made clear that this pro­gram­me would not be exten­ded.

To many people’s sur­pri­se, the bank is also amongst the losers: the mother com­pa­ny, SpareBank Nordnor­ge, has deci­ded to clo­se 16 branch banks in north Nor­way. The com­pa­ny says that the rea­son is a chan­ged cus­to­mer beha­viour as cus­to­mers use the inter­net and do not go to the bank any­mo­re, as Sval­bard­pos­ten found out. It does not sur­pri­se that the decisi­on is met with strong cri­ti­cism in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Post office and bank, Longyearbyen

Post office and bank in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: the post stays, the Bank will clo­se.

At least the post office will stay: will most post offices in Nor­way will be clo­sed, the one in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is amongst the lucky few who will stay. In many pla­ces in Nor­way, pos­tal ser­vices will only be avail­ab­le in shops and super­mar­kets in the future.

Polar bear dead in con­nec­tion with sci­en­ti­fic ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on

The seri­es of sad news from Spits­ber­gen does not stop. On Wed­nes­day, a polar bear died in con­nec­tion with ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on for sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses, accord­ing to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

The inci­dend hap­pen­ed in Wij­defjord during the rou­ti­ne autumn cam­pai­gn to mark polar bears. In this pro­cess, bears are ana­es­the­ti­sed with tran­qui­li­ser guns from a heli­co­p­ter to mark the ani­mal and for other sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses, usual­ly inclu­ding weig­hing and taking sam­ples. The bear that died on Wed­nes­day was bear num­ber “30 or 31” of the cur­rent cam­pai­gn.

So far it is only known that the bear did not sur­vi­ve. It is not yet known in public when in the pro­cess and how and why exact­ly he died. The Sys­sel­mann­nen ope­ned a case to inves­ti­ga­te the inci­dent, so no fur­ther details have been released at the time of wri­ting, for examp­le con­cer­ning the ques­ti­on if a vet was pre­sent or not.

The rou­ti­ne to regu­lar­ly ana­es­the­ti­se a lar­ger num­ber of polar bears, invol­ving a heli­co­p­ter cha­se, has met cri­ti­cism alrea­dy befo­re. Accord­ing to Jon Aars, lea­ding polar bear sci­en­tist of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, it is com­mon to “lose” 2 to 4 bears in 1000 ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­ons. This was the third time sin­ce 2003 that it hap­pen­ed to Aars, as he told Sval­bard­pos­ten. Accord­ing to Aars, mar­king bears is jus­ti­fied by the worth of the data thus obtai­ned for sci­en­tists.

polar bear skull

Mee­tings of humans and polar bears have alrea­dy cost the lives of 4 bears and one per­son in Spits­ber­gen this year.
(The pho­to is sym­bo­lic: harm­less find of an old polar bear skull in Hin­lo­pen Strait).

It is alrea­dy the fourth inci­dent this year whe­re a polar bear died during or after con­ta­ct with peop­le. The­re was, of cour­se, the recent fatal attack of a bear on a man at the camp­si­te near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, whe­re a man and a polar bear died. A bear was shot by the poli­ce in ear­ly Janu­a­ry alt­hough the­re was no immedia­te dan­ger. And in late Janu­a­ry, an ana­es­the­ti­sed bear died during heli­co­p­ter trans­port away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It seems that the lat­ter case has not been hand­led well and the inci­dent attrac­ted sub­stan­ti­al cri­ti­cism and rai­sed a num­ber of ques­ti­ons, for examp­le if a vet should be pre­sent during such ope­ra­ti­ons. It has not yet been reve­a­led if a vet was pre­sent when the bear died in Wij­defjord on Wed­nes­day.

Phipp­søya polar bear (MS Bre­men, 2018): pro­cee­dings clo­sed

The legal case of the polar bear that was shot in 2018 by crew mem­bers of the Ger­man crui­se ship MS Bre­men is clo­sed, as the Sys­sel­man­nen infor­med in a press release on Fri­day.

Polar bear, Phippsøya

Polar bear on Phipp­søya, fee­ding on a car­cass.
It was most likely this bear that was shot
by crew mem­bers of MS Bre­men in this place 11 days later.

The inci­dend hap­pen­ed on 28 July 2018, when 14 crew mem­bers of MS Bre­men went ashore on Phipp­søya, which belong to the islands of Sjuøya­ne, to pre­pa­re a lan­ding for pas­sen­gers. The group inclu­ded the expe­di­ti­on lea­der, four polar bear guards, a pho­to­gra­pher and other crew mem­bers. Two polar bears guards were soon sent out to check a part of the ter­rain that could not be seen from the lan­ding area. They met the polar bear which had been hid­den in a ter­rain depres­si­on. The bear atta­cked one per­son, who suf­fe­red head inju­ries. The bear did not stop the attack in spi­te of several warning shots being fired, so two per­sons fired in total three shots against the bear which kil­led him. The per­son who was atta­cked sur­vi­ved with minor inju­ries.

The pho­to­gra­pher took pho­tos of the event, which hence was well docu­men­ted and easy to recon­struct.

Now the public pro­se­cu­tor of Troms and Finn­mark (north Nor­way) has deci­ded to clo­se the case. Shoo­ting a polar bear is princi­pal­ly ille­gal and under punish­ment, but this was now offi­cial­ly found to be a case of self defence.

The case that had been ope­ned against the com­pa­ny was also clo­sed. Here, the com­pa­nies safe­ty rou­ti­nes had been inves­ti­ga­ted.

The inves­ti­ga­ti­ons were finis­hed in Novem­ber 2019, but com­pe­tence bet­ween dif­fe­rent aut­ho­ri­ties was initi­al­ly unclear and then the Coro­na cri­sis led to fur­ther delays.

Crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen now only with 30 per­sons in total

The Nor­we­gi­an government has put more restric­tion on crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen: they are now only allo­wed for ships car­ry­ing 30 per­sons in total – that is, pas­sen­gers and crew tog­e­ther. Day trips without over­night stays on board are not con­cer­ned by this restric­tion.

The government says that the dif­fi­cul­ties a Covid-19 out­break would bring on any lar­ger ship would be dif­fi­cult to con­trol, hence the new restric­tion.

Le Boreal, Spitsbergen

The Le Bore­al (here seen in Lief­defjord in 2015) was one of only a few ships at all that have been able to do crui­ses this sum­mer in Spits­ber­gen.

In June, the government ope­ned the pos­si­bi­li­ty to do crui­ses in Spits­ber­gen. But alrea­dy then, restric­tions such as a reduc­tion of pas­sen­ger num­bers by 50 % kept many tour ope­ra­tors and ship owners from star­ting the sea­son in Spits­ber­gen at all. After a Covid-19-out­break on MS Roald Amund­sen, also Hur­tig­ru­ten stop­ped their expe­di­ti­on crui­ses com­ple­te­ly. Bey­ond Hur­tig­ru­ten and Ponant (Le Bore­al), only a very few smal­ler ships were acti­ve with crui­ses over several days this year in Spits­ber­gen, such as Ori­go, who mana­ged to do a hand­ful of trips, and Cape Race, who just finis­hed one suc­cess­ful­ly, only to can­cel the rest of the sea­son becau­se of the recent intro­duc­tion of qua­ran­ti­ne for tra­vel­lers from Ger­ma­ny. Cape Race will now try her luck in Scot­land – fin­gers cros­sed!

The government has announ­ced to re-con­si­der this most recent restric­tion until 01 Novem­ber. I would say: no rush. Then the sea­son is over any­way, if it has ever hap­pen­ed in the ongo­ing Coro­na-year at all.

Wreck of Nor­th­gui­der remo­ved

The wreck of the Nor­th­gui­der is now com­ple­te­ly remo­ved from Hin­lo­pen Strait.

The shrimp traw­ler ran ground in Hin­lo­pen, very clo­se to the coast of Nord­aus­t­land, in late Decem­ber 2018. The crew could be res­cued by heli­co­p­ter in a dra­ma­tic ope­ra­ti­on in very cold and stor­my con­di­ti­ons and com­ple­te darkness. Later, envi­ron­ment­al­ly dan­ge­rous mate­ri­als inclu­ding fuels and lub­ri­ca­ti­on oils, paints, electri­cal equip­ment and fishing gear could be remo­ved.

Wrack Northguider

The wreck of the ship traw­ler Nor­th­gui­der and sal­va­ge ves­sels
in August 2019 in Hin­lo­pen.

It was plan­ned to remo­ve the wreck during the sum­mer of 2019, but dif­fi­cult ice con­di­ti­ons delay­ed the ope­ra­ti­on and then it tur­ned out that the wreck could not be remo­ved in one pie­ce becau­se it was too hea­vi­ly dama­ged.

Now the Nor­th­gui­der has been cut into several smal­ler pie­ces which could be taken to Nor­way. Divers con­fir­med that no wre­cka­ge is left on the sea flour eit­her, accord­ing to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

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