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Yearly Archives: 2020 − News & Stories


Nor­way about to open bor­ders for tou­rists from most EU coun­tries

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.

Spits­ber­gen with Anti­gua – some thoughts

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.

Antigua, Spitzbergen

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 Spitsbergen

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 Spitsbergen

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.

Eiskarte Spitzbergen

Ice chart Spits­ber­gen as of 09 July (© Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te).

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.

Isfjord

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.

For­landsund

We spent qui­te a bit of time in For­landsund last year, as tho­se who were the­re will remem­ber with no reg­rets 😉 all the For­landsund pic­tures are from 2019.

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!

Coro­na: Arc­ti­ca II in August can­cel­led

It is not a good year for tou­rism and this will pro­bab­ly not real­ly chan­ge at any time soon, espe­cial­ly when it comes to the com­bi­na­ti­on of small ships and remo­te are­as. Even though ship-based tou­rism is now, in theo­ry, pos­si­ble again in Spits­ber­gen under strict con­di­ti­ons and Nor­way is about to open bor­ders again for Euro­pean tou­rists, the con­di­ti­ons are strict and make if very dif­fi­cult, or actual­ly pret­ty much impos­si­ble, to start sai­ling again espe­cial­ly with small ships.

Spitsbergen with SY Arctica II: cancelled because of Corona

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 opens for tou­rists from 15 July

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.

Corona-Karte Skandinavien

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).

Let­hal ana­es­the­ti­sa­ti­on of polar bear cri­ti­cis­ed by aut­ho­ri­ties

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

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.

Government re-opens Spits­ber­gen for crui­se ships

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.

Hurtigruten Svalbard

“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 %.

Polar bear shot on Phipp­søya in 2018: no report yet

The case of the polar bear that was shot in late July 2018 on the island of Phipp­søya by a crew mem­ber of the Ger­man crui­seship Bre­men attrac­ted media and public atten­ti­on around the world.

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 shot on Phippsøya, Spitsbergen

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.

Avalan­che acci­dent on Fri­dt­jov­breen in Febru­a­ry: first report

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.

Avalanche accident at Fridtjovbreen, February 2020: map

The appro­xi­ma­te acci­dent site is mar­ked with the red dot.
Map base © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te.
Modi­fied by landkarten-erstellung.de and this aut­hor.

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.

Avalanche accident Fridtjovbreen, February 2020

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.

Spits­ber­gen with Anti­gua in July can­cel­led

It is real­ly not a sur­pri­se, but now it is offi­cial: our Spits­ber­gen voya­ge with Anti­gua in July is can­cel­led for rea­sons that will hard­ly requi­re an explana­ti­on. The par­ti­ci­pants who are boo­ked on this voya­ge will be con­ta­c­ted soo­nest by the Geo­gra­phi­schen Rei­se­ge­sell­schaft.

Corona-Virus, Spitsbergen

With Anti­gua in Spits­ber­gen: won’t hap­pen in July 2020.

I have to admit that this is a bit emo­tio­nal. The thought of all the arc­tic soul­food that is lost this year can bring more than just a bit of water to one’s eyes. Cer­tain­ly to mine, at least. This sum­mers’ first, ear­ly sea­son trip in Spits­ber­gen on Anti­gua would be hap­pe­ning right now. Still a lot of snow and ice up north. But in real life, Anti­gua is about as far away from Spits­ber­gen as most of you rea­ders will be. A few weeks ago, on the trip up from main­land Nor­way to Spits­ber­gen, we might have seen Bear Island as we haven’t seen it at all in recent years: with den­se ice packed all round the shores! We can only ima­gi­ne how good that might have been. Sad. I am sure that I can honest­ly think and wri­te that on behalf of all pas­sen­gers and crew.

Ice chart, Spitsbergen, early May

Ice chart of south Spits­ber­gen, ear­ly May: ice around the south cape, Bear Island and on the east coast, Bellsund fro­zen solid. How good would that have been …
Ice chart © Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te.

Bey­ond all the good expe­ri­ence that is now lost, you may ima­gi­ne that this is also a bit of a tough blow eco­no­mi­c­al­ly. In this con­text, I may men­ti­on that my Spits­ber­gen online shop has never been clo­sed and it will remain open and acces­si­ble at any time and you can find a lot of good stuff the­re to tra­vel the Arc­tic without lea­ving the sofa! Next to the famous Spits­ber­gen bible, the­re is the less famous, but may­be even more beau­ti­ful pho­to book with the aeri­al pho­tos or, with the drift­wood pic­tu­re frames and the kit­chen slats, a real pie­ce of Spits­ber­gen on the wall or the kit­chen table, respec­tively, to men­ti­on just a few.

Gene­ral­ly, tou­rism is star­ting up slow­ly again in Spits­ber­gen. Empha­si­ze “slow­ly”. But this, again, will hard­ly come as a sur­pri­se: so far, only tou­rists from main­land Nor­way can visit Spits­ber­gen. Danish tou­rists will be the next ones who will be allo­wed in from 15 June. The Nor­we­gi­an government has announ­ced to make a state­ment regar­ding visi­tors from “near-by Euro­pean coun­tries” until 20 July. So, stay tun­ed.

Any­way, ship-based tra­vel­ling over several days is so far exclu­ded and it is announ­ced that it will take “more time” (without fur­ther spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­on) until this kind of tra­vel­ling can take place again.

Unem­ploy­ment remains high in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Unem­ploy­ment has reached levels unhe­ard of in Lon­gye­ar­by­en befo­re during the Coro­na cri­sis and it remains high: cur­r­ent­ly, 344 per­sons have regis­tered as unem­ploy­ed (com­ple­te­ly or part­ly) with NAV (Arbei­ds- og vel­ferds­for­valt­nin­gen, the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ty for unem­ploy­ment and social secu­ri­ty office), accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Corona virus, Spitsbergen

Much more dan­ge­rous than polar bears: the Coro­na-virus.
kills peop­le and jobs all over the world (pho­to com­po­si­ti­on).

That is only 6 less than during the pre­vious week, in spi­te of pre­pra­ra­ti­ons and boo­kings having star­ted for the first tou­rists from main­land Nor­way who are expec­ted to return to Spits­ber­gen from 01 June.

The high unem­ploy­ment level cau­ses gre­at pro­blems for many. Social wel­fa­re from Nor­way for citi­zens of coun­tries out­side EEA (Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area) is limi­ted until 20 June. After that, the only help that citi­zens of such coun­tries may get is a sub­s­idy to their tra­vel expen­ses on the jour­ney to their coun­try of ori­gin.

Becau­se of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, the­re is almost com­ple­te libe­ra­li­ty of access, stay and work, but in exchan­ge, the­re is no social secu­ri­ty by Nor­way for non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens.

Public grants for tra­vel cos­ts ins­tead of living expen­ses; tou­rism star­ting up again

Unem­ploy­ment has gone through the roof in Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the Coro­na pan­de­mic and many have come into finan­cial trou­bles. Only Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens are eli­gi­ble for sup­port from the Nor­we­gi­an public wel­fa­re sys­tem becau­se of the con­di­ti­ons of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. Others have to take care of them­sel­ves or they have to ask for sup­port in their home coun­tries.

Nevertheless, the Nor­we­gi­an government had step­ped in and offe­red public help for citi­zens of third coun­tries in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to pre­vent a social cri­sis. This pro­gram­me will, howe­ver, cea­se on 20 June and the government in Oslo does not con­si­der to extend it, des­pi­te such deman­ds being rai­sed in the dis­cus­sion in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Ins­tead, the government wants to offer finan­cial help with tra­vel expen­ses to tho­se who want to lea­ve and return to their home coun­tries, accord­ing to a press release by minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Moni­ca Mæland..

Tourists, Longyearbyen

Tou­rists and locals enjoy­ing the sunshi­ne in Lon­gye­ar­by­en:
this is what ever­y­bo­dy is hoping for from 01 June.

Poli­ti­ci­ans, com­pa­nies and many indi­vi­du­als in Lon­gye­ar­by­en hope that not many will have to make use of this offer from the government. Tou­rists from main­land Nor­way can come to Spits­ber­gen again from 01 June and boo­kings have star­ted to come in. Some tour ope­ra­tors have told Sval­bard­pos­ten that they are cur­r­ent­ly hap­py with the deve­lo­p­ment of boo­kings. Still, the majo­ri­ty of employees are at home without work, and some have alrea­dy left Lon­gye­ar­by­en. But for many who come from coun­tries fur­ther away such as Thai­land, get­ting to their home coun­tries would be very dif­fi­cult becau­se of cur­rent tra­vel restric­tions.

In the end, it will of cour­se be the deve­lo­p­ment of the Coro­na pan­de­mic that will con­trol the deve­lo­p­ment: so far, the­re is no case of Coro­na con­fir­med in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Nobo­dy can tell how long this will last and what will hap­pen then.

Step­wi­se ease on Coro­na-qua­ran­ti­ne in Spits­ber­gen UPDATED

Updated 16 May and 17 May

The qua­ran­ti­ne regu­la­ti­ons for Spits­ber­gen are about to be pha­sed out for locals and tou­rists. To start with, the qua­ran­ti­ne will be disesta­b­lis­hed for locals from today (Fri­day, 15 May) 1800. This will inclu­de pri­va­te guests and visi­tors who are com­ing for pro­fes­sio­nal rea­sons, inclu­ding sci­en­tists, accord­ing to a press release from the Sys­sel­man­nen. The regu­la­ti­ons in detail as issued by the Sys­sel­man­nen can be found here. Pri­va­te guests are defi­ned as clo­se­ly rela­ted fami­ly mem­bers by Minis­ter of Jus­ti­ce Moni­ca Mæland.

Corona-quarantine, Spitsbergen

About to be eased: Coro­na qua­ran­ti­ne on Spits­ber­gen: (pho­to com­po­si­ti­on).

Tra­vel­lers com­ing for work pur­po­ses shall be allo­wed to come to Sval­bard without qua­ran­ti­ne from 01 June.

“Leisu­re visi­tors” – tou­rists, in other words – from Scan­di­na­vi­an coun­tries (“Nor­den”) can come from 15 June without having to stay in qua­ran­ti­ne.

It will be con­si­de­red to open for tou­rists from other neigh­bou­ring Euro­pean coun­tries from 20 July, as Minis­ter of Jus­ti­ce* Moni­ca Mæland said during a press con­fe­rence on Fri­day.

(*in an ear­lier ver­si­on of this text, it said “Minis­ter for Eco­no­mic Affairs”. This was not cor­rect. Moni­ca Mæland is, of cour­se, Minis­ter of Jus­ti­ce and emer­gen­cy ser­vices).

Hygie­ne and health safe­ty plans which are accep­ted by aut­ho­ri­ties will be requi­red for any orga­ni­zed tra­vel­ling.

The Sys­sel­man­nen empha­si­zes that it will not be a quick and full return back to what it used to be, but a step-wise approach to a new kind of nor­ma­li­ty. Limi­t­ing the total num­ber of tou­rists in Spits­ber­gen is in con­si­de­ra­ti­on, and it is said that it will still take “some time” befo­re crui­ses over several days can take place again.

Gene­ral­ly, the Nor­we­gi­an government does not recom­mend inter­na­tio­nal holi­days until at least midd­le of August.

First com­ple­te count of Belu­ga wha­les in Spits­ber­gen

Mari­ne bio­lo­gists have for the first time made a com­ple­te cen­sus of Belu­ga wha­les in Spits­ber­gen to get a pre­cise esti­ma­te of the popu­la­ti­on. The result was made avail­ab­le on Rese­arch­ga­te in Febru­a­ry.

The sci­en­tists around the Nor­we­gi­an mari­ne bio­lo­gist Chris­ti­an Lyder­sen have made aeri­al sur­veys of the coast­li­nes of almost all islands in Sval­bard. Addi­tio­nal­ly, they have cove­r­ed the open water are­as of the lar­ge fjords on the west coast and indi­vi­du­al tran­sects out towards the open sea to get an over­view as com­ple­te as pos­si­ble.

Beluga whale, Spitsbergen

Belu­ga wha­le in Dick­son­fjord. Lar­ge groups are very dif­fi­cult to count. The­re is only one in the pic­tu­re, but how many did we see wit­hin 5 km or so around it? Dozens? Hund­reds?

The result is inde­ed sur­pri­sing: 22 groups with a total of 265 ani­mals were sigh­ted. Sta­tis­ti­cal cal­cu­la­ti­ons result in a popu­la­ti­on esti­ma­te of 549 White wha­les for the who­le Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go (95 % con­fi­dence inter­val: 436-723).

The­re are, of cour­se, remai­ning uncer­tain­ties. More ani­mals than esti­ma­ted may have remai­ned invi­si­ble during the sur­vey. But even if you incre­a­se the result based on a hig­her esti­ma­te of unse­en indi­vi­du­als, it remains sur­pri­sin­gly low. Until now, all the­re was was rough esti­ma­tes based on obser­va­tions which were more punc­tu­al in space and time. The­se may have been cor­rup­ted by the migra­tio­nal beha­viour of White wha­les, which often seem to cir­cle around in cer­tain are­as for a while, giving an obser­ver who remains in one place on the coast the impres­si­on that one group is moving through after the other.

It is also so far unknown if the­re is a con­nec­tion to Belu­ga wha­les in Frans Josefs Land (Rus­si­an Arc­tic). If Spits­ber­gen and Frans Josefs Land share a popu­la­ti­on, as is the case with polar bears and wal­ru­ses, then it would again be a com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent pic­tu­re. But the few data that are avail­ab­le from tracking Belu­ga wha­les do not sup­port this, but it can cer­tain­ly too ear­ly to exclu­de this hypo­the­sis.

Ope­ning Spits­ber­gen for tou­rists: work in pro­cess

Ope­ning Spits­ber­gen for tou­rists again in the Coro­na cri­sis is still work in pro­cess. Nego­tia­ti­ons sup­po­sed to result in a care­ful are going in bet­ween the indus­try and various aut­ho­ri­ties. Tou­rism repre­sen­ta­ti­ves had expres­sed their hope to get a date alrea­dy on Fri­day or at least on Mon­day (11 May), but this has obvious­ly not yet hap­pen­ed. Some tour ope­ra­tors hope to re-start their busi­ness from 01 of June.

Corona-quarantine, Spitsbergen

App­lies to all of Spits­ber­gen and will stay for a while:
Coro­na-qua­ran­ti­ne (pho­to com­po­si­ti­on).

Espe­cial­ly tra­vel­lers from out­side Nor­way should take their time, obser­ve the fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment and read the small print. It appears likely – offi­cial con­fir­ma­ti­on is pen­ding – that Nor­way will keep a qua­ran­ti­ne for ever­y­bo­dy who enters the coun­try, accord­ing to the news­pa­per Dag­b­la­det. The qua­ran­ti­ne will be redu­ced from 14 to 10 days, pro­bab­ly also in Spits­ber­gen, and it will app­ly to ever­y­bo­dy who is ent­e­ring the coun­try regard­less of natio­na­li­ty, some­thing that would make such a pro­ce­du­re com­ply with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. This means that Spits­ber­gen as a desti­na­ti­on might not be rea­listic for peop­le who are not alrea­dy in Nor­way.

All orga­nis­ed tra­vel­ling will requi­re a health safe­ty plan accep­ted by the aut­ho­ri­ties.

This appears to be the cur­rent situa­ti­on. Final con­fir­ma­ti­on and the futher deve­lo­p­ment remains to be seen.

Talks about care­ful re-ope­ning of tou­rism

Several mee­tings have taken place in Lon­gye­ar­by­en this week with repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the tou­rism indus­try, the Sys­sel­man­nen and other aut­ho­ri­ties to dis­cuss opti­ons for a care­ful ope­ning of tou­rism, upon which many jobs depend.

A cen­tral task is crea­ting a plan with hygie­ne- and other prac­ti­cal mea­su­res that ensu­re a safe and healt­hy prac­ti­ce for tra­vel­ling. Such a plan is now work in pro­cess.

Sys­sel­man­nen Kjers­tin Askholt empha­si­zes that a quick and com­ple­te restart will not hap­pen. The idea is a care­ful and step-wise approach of a nor­mal situa­ti­on. Public health and safe­ty, with the limi­ted emer­gen­cy and health ser­vices in mind, will have prio­ri­ty.

All invol­ved seek a date to start first acti­vi­ties to give the com­pa­nies a basis for plan­ning. Such a date is not known at this time.

Hospital, Longyearbyen

Hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: Capa­ci­ties are limi­ted and the next big hos­pi­tal far away.

It is unclear which ways of tra­vel­ling will be pos­si­ble again to start with. The assump­ti­on that tou­rism will, for a while, be limi­ted to forms of tra­vel­ling that invol­ve limi­ted num­bers of per­sons and that take place not far from exis­ting infra­st­ruc­tu­re seems to make sen­se. It is also unclear for how long and how far prac­ti­cal or, pos­si­b­ly, other limi­ta­ti­ons for inter­na­tio­nal traf­fic will be in place.

Cur­r­ent­ly and at least until 18th May, ever­y­bo­dy who arri­ves in Spits­ber­gen needs to stay in qua­ran­ti­ne for 14 days.

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