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Yearly Archives: 2021 − News & Stories


New posi­ti­ve Coro­na tests in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: pro­bab­ly Omi­kron

The Sars­Cov-2 virus keeps bothe­ring the world, and this inclu­des the Arc­tic. Omi­kron seems to have arri­ved in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re were three posi­ti­ve Coro­na tests in Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the Christ­mas holi­days, all of them con­cer­ning per­sons who had recent­ly arri­ved from main­land Nor­way whe­re Omi­kron is well estab­lis­hed, so Knut Sel­mer, medi­cal doc­tor and respon­si­ble for hand­ling infec­tious dise­a­ses at the hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, assu­mes that Omi­kron has come to Spits­ber­gen. In addi­ti­on, the­re are several per­sons in qua­ran­ti­ne and test results keep com­ing in, as Sval­bard­pos­ten reports.

Corona and Omikron, Spitsbergen

Coro­na has come to Spits­ber­gen, and this seems to inclu­de the Omi­kron vari­ant.

Sel­mer expects this to be the begin­ning of a major wave of infec­tions, just as else­whe­re in the world. He does not think it is pos­si­ble to keep Spits­ber­gen coro­na-free in the future, but con­si­ders it high­ly important to delay and flat­ten the cur­ve. Ever­y­bo­dy who arri­ves in Lon­gye­ar­by­en needs to get tes­ted and Nor­way has recent­ly tigh­te­ned regu­la­ti­ons con­cer­ning, amongst others, face masks. The aim in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is to keep school, kin­der­gar­tens and other ser­vices espe­cial­ly for child­ren and youth open as long as pos­si­ble.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has, at least, a very high vac­ci­na­ti­on rate. Near 700 per­sons got vac­ci­na­ti­ons in Decem­ber, most­ly boos­ter injec­tions, but also a cou­p­le of pri­ma­ry vac­ci­na­ti­ons. The next mass vac­ci­na­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is sche­du­led for 11 Janu­a­ry.

Immer­hin hat Lon­gye­ar­by­en eine sehr hohe Impf­quo­te. Im Dezem­ber wur­den rund 700 Per­so­nen geimpft, wobei es über­wie­gend um Auf­fri­schungs­imp­fun­gen ging. Es gab aber auch eini­ge Erst­imp­fun­gen. Die nächs­te, gro­ße Impf­ak­ti­on in Spitz­ber­gen ist am 11. Janu­ar geplant.

Corona, Spitsbergen

In spi­te of Coro­na, even in spi­te of Omi­kron,
the sun will rise and shi­ne again over Spits­ber­gen in 2022.
But it will take some time.

This is pro­bab­ly the last one of more than 100 blog and news ent­ries on this web­site in 2021. I will, of cour­se, con­ti­nue in 2022. Thank you for rea­ding, wel­co­me back and hap­py new year!

“C” as in “coro­na”, or bet­ter: Christ­mas

Many had been thin­king in Lon­gye­ar­by­en that Spits­ber­gen would remain a covid-free bub­ble, but it didn’t real­ly sur­pri­se that this is not the case. A num­ber of peop­le have tes­ted posi­ti­ve in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, inclu­ding tho­se that show sym­ptoms – not dra­ma­tic ones, luck­i­ly, as far as known at least.

So now ever­y­bo­dy who arri­ves in Lon­gye­ar­by­en needs to make a test upon arri­val. The admi­nis­tra­ti­on fears the con­se­quen­ces of a major out­break in such a remo­te loca­ti­on.

Corona, Spitsbergen

Coro­na has come to Spits­ber­gen. And if you do the same, then you have to get tes­ted upon arri­val the­re.

Nobo­dy knows what this might mean for the future, what 2022 may bring. Many in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (and else­whe­re) feel unwell as soon as someo­ne says “Omi­kron”.

Digi­tal Spits­ber­gen muse­um: new and impro­ved pages

So at the time being, a vir­tu­al jour­ney may be the bet­ter opti­on, and cer­tain­ly the che­a­per and easier one, avail­ab­le at any time. I have made a num­ber of new pages wit­hin spitsbergen-svalbard.com and impro­ved older ones, making it worthwhile to visit both well known and remo­te cor­ners of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go. It is fair to say that what I am buil­ding up here over years is kind of a digi­tal Spits­ber­gen muse­um, espe­cial­ly in the pan­ora­ma sec­tion which makes many loca­ti­ons in Sval­bard easi­ly acces­si­ble to anyo­ne with inter­net access world­wi­de. The new and impro­ved pages are my Christ­mas pre­sent for all Spits­ber­gen enthu­si­asts who like a digi­tal trip to some beau­ti­ful, but – in real life – hard-to-get-to pla­ces. Enjoy!

Some of the new/improved pages:

spitsbergen-svalbard.com: new pages

Some of the loca­ti­ons repre­sen­ted on spitsbergen-svalbard.com with new or impro­ved pages:
Enjoy! Access via the links in the list below.

Weihnachten, Spitzbergen

Ligh­t­ing up the Christ­mas tree in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Befo­re Covid-19 – a long, long time ago.

Hap­py Christ­mas and the best wis­hes for a hap­py and healt­hy new year!

Use of depth-record­ing echo sound­ers may be for­bid­den in the future

Cur­r­ent­ly Nor­we­gi­an law­ma­kers appe­ar to be pro­du­cing one fan­tastic idea after the other. One of the poten­ti­al­ly upco­m­ing laws is aimed against saving water depth data. The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of defence con­si­ders depth-record­ing echo sound­ers a poten­ti­al thre­at to natio­nal secu­ri­ty and wants to pro­hi­bit their use in Nor­we­gi­an waters, as repor­ted by NRK. Next to the 12 mile zone of main­land Nor­way, this is expli­ci­te­ly inten­ded to inclu­de the cor­re­spon­ding ter­ri­to­ri­al waters of Sval­bard and Jan May­en.

All modern ships have echo sound­ers instal­led to moni­tor the depth of the water under the ship, and fishing ves­sels rou­ti­nely use echo sound­ers to loca­te fish. Simp­ler devices just show the cur­rent value, while more sophisti­ca­ted ones – which are stan­dard on many modern ves­sels – record and save the data. If a ship navi­ga­tes repeated­ly in a cer­tain area, over time the data thus gathe­red will pro­du­ce a rough chart of the sea bot­tom topo­gra­phy – a gre­at advan­ta­ge in poor­ly char­ted waters such as lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly in the remo­ter are­as. GPS tracks with depth infor­ma­ti­on, auto­ma­ti­cal­ly or manu­al­ly recor­ded, are an important and fre­quent­ly used navi­ga­tio­nal tool in the­se waters.

echo sounder, Spitsbergen

Navi­ga­ti­on in unchar­ted waters, in this case near a gla­cier that has recent­ly retrea­ted. Accord­ing to the char­ted, the ship is sai­ling insi­de the gla­cier (brown area). Care­ful use of echo sound­ers and record­ing depth for future use is com­mon prac­ti­ce in such situa­tions.

The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of defence wants to have a law re-acti­va­ted that pro­hi­bits saving high-reso­lu­ti­on depth values in waters deeper than 30 metres. This aut­hor can only spe­cu­la­te that the rea­son is to make access to secu­ri­ty-rele­vant are­as more dif­fi­cult and to keep mili­ta­ry instal­la­ti­ons on the sea floor from being dis­co­ve­r­ed.

Accord­ing to the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, no coun­try inclu­ding Nor­way is allo­wed to have per­ma­nent mili­ta­ry instal­la­ti­ons in Sval­bard, hence intro­du­cing mea­su­res to pro­tect such instal­la­ti­ons does not make sen­se. The Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry, howe­ver, seems to con­si­der the ter­ri­to­ri­al waters of Sval­bard gene­ral­ly so sen­si­ti­ve that they wish to inclu­de Sval­bard, whe­re lar­ge are­as are poor­ly char­ted or not char­ted at all.

Fishers are raging becau­se they see a risk of their dai­ly rou­ti­nes being cri­mi­na­li­sed, with con­se­quen­ces poten­ti­al­ly inclu­ding high fines or up to a year in pri­son. Accord­ing to the minis­try of defence, the law is “in princip­le” not aimed against fishe­ry and at least in theo­ry their rou­ti­nes should not be affec­ted – that is, at least, the inten­ti­on. What the law actual­ly says remains to be seen. The idea is rather to keep for­eign, poten­ti­al­ly unfriend­ly powers from sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly char­ting Nor­we­gi­an waters.

Legal opi­ni­on: law pro­po­sals should be with­drawn

The ongo­ing dis­cus­sion of the high­ly con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals by the Nor­we­gi­an government con­cer­ning Sval­bard (the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go) is fuel­led by a legal opi­ni­on that, in essence, con­clu­des that the pro­po­sals should be with­drawn. The legal opi­ni­on was draf­ted by a law office based in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on behalf of Aeco (Asso­cia­ti­on of Arc­tic Expe­di­ti­on Crui­se Ope­ra­tors, an inter-tra­de orga­ni­sa­ti­on), Visit Sval­bard (tou­rism office and indus­try orga­ni­sa­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en) and Sval­bard Nærings­fo­re­ning (tra­de and indus­try asso­cia­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en) erstellt. Sval­bard­pos­ten got a copy of the legal opi­ni­on and made the key points public.

This is what it is all about:

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (1): clo­sing lar­ge parts of Sval­bard

In essence, it is about a seri­es of law pro­po­sals made by the pre­vious Nor­we­gi­an government. The­re is a new government in Oslo after par­la­men­tia­ry elec­tions in Sep­tem­ber.

The pro­po­sal which attracts most public atten­ti­on and con­tro­ver­sy also out­side Sval­bard and Nor­way is one that aims at prac­ti­cal­ly clo­sing lar­ge parts of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go for the public. The “public” that has at least spo­ra­dic access to the­se rather remo­te are­as is main­ly ship-based tou­rism during the sum­mer sea­son. This kind of traf­fic has for a long time alrea­dy been stron­gly regu­la­ted (inclu­ding, but not limi­ted to, a ban on hea­vy oils on ships, limits on pas­sen­ger num­bers on board and ashore in most are­as etc.). In addi­ti­on to tou­rism, the­re is sci­ence and – on a much lower quan­ti­ta­ti­ve level – the local popu­la­ti­on and indi­vi­du­al tou­rists, main­ly tho­se who come with their own yachts.

The law pro­po­sal is visi­b­ly aimed against ship-based tou­rism, but would hit all of the­se sec­tors. In princip­le, most of Svalbard’s land are­as and coast­li­nes are so far legal­ly acces­si­ble for tou­rists, with the excep­ti­on of a num­ber of smal­ler are­as, islands and loca­ti­ons, that are clo­sed – sea­so­nal­ly or per­ma­nent­ly – to the public becau­se they are con­si­de­red espe­cial­ly vul­nerable. During the sum­mer sea­son, several hund­red loca­ti­ons over most of the archi­pe­la­go are visi­ted by tou­rists; the main part of the traf­fic, howe­ver, takes place at a rela­tively limi­ted num­ber of well-known and reala­tively easi­ly acces­si­ble loca­ti­ons. Many of the lar­ge num­ber of remai­ning loca­ti­ons are more “exo­tic”, much less well known and much less regu­lar­ly or actual­ly only rare­ly visi­ted. They are, nevertheless, important espe­cial­ly in the con­text of lon­ger voya­ges which aim at expe­ri­en­cing the varie­ty of Svalbard’s land­s­capes.

The rele­vant law pro­po­sal would drasti­cal­ly redu­ce the liber­ty of action in most parts of Sval­bard. Accord­ing to the pro­po­sal, lan­dings shall only be per­mit­ted at altog­e­ther 42 loca­ti­ons in the pro­tec­ted are­as, which inclu­de most of the archi­pe­la­go. Due to wind, wea­ther, ice and the pre­sence of polar bears, it is very com­mon that a given loca­ti­on is actual­ly not avail­ab­le at a given point of time: in such cases, it has so far been com­mon to move “around the cor­ner” to ano­t­her loca­ti­on which can be visi­ted without pro­blems or even risk. Fle­xi­bi­li­ty is thus an inte­gral part of the safe­ty and qua­li­ty con­cept of the­se voya­ges. The loss of fle­xi­bi­li­ty would accord­in­gly direct­ly redu­ce the qua­li­ty (and, poten­ti­al­ly, safe­ty) of the who­le ope­ra­ti­on. Con­si­der on top that, during peak sea­son, several dozen ships would com­pe­te for a small num­ber of sites that remains legal­ly acces­si­ble, and you are left with almost next to not­hing at all.

The fol­lowing two maps may illus­tra­te the loss of fle­xi­bi­li­ty which the law pro­po­sal as it cur­r­ent­ly is would invol­ve, loo­king at the examp­le of Nord­aus­t­land. Simi­lar maps could be drawn for almost any other part of Sval­bard.

New law, closing Svalbard

Lan­ding sites on Nord­aus­t­land and neigh­bou­ring islands that have been visi­ted by tou­rists in recent years (not com­ple­te).

New law, closing Svalbard

Lan­ding sites in the same area that would be legal­ly acces­si­ble accord­ing to the cur­rent law pro­po­sal (com­ple­te).

If a legal mea­su­re as drastic as this one would actual­ly be in accordance with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, which in princi­pal gua­ran­tees citi­zens and com­pa­nies of signa­to­ry coun­tries free access to the archi­pe­la­go, is yet ano­t­her ques­ti­on. But in order to get a pro­per ans­wer, this ques­ti­on would pro­bab­ly have to be asked by the government of a trea­ty mem­ber other than Nor­way.

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (2): exten­ded regis­tra­ti­on sche­mes for traf­fic

Ano­t­her part of this law pro­po­sal aims at exte­ned regis­tra­ti­on sche­mes and admi­nis­tra­ti­on efforts for traf­fic out­side the sett­le­ments.

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (3): distan­ces to polar bears and wal­ru­ses

Also a part of the law pro­po­sal that inclu­des the abo­ve-men­tio­ned points, this part is so cen­tral and important that it needs to be high­ligh­ted on its own, rather than get­ting lost at the end of a long text some­whe­re else: the law inclu­des a legal mini­mum distance of 500 metres to polar bears in any situa­ti­on and 300 metres to wal­ru­ses at sea.

Espe­cial­ly a gene­ral mini­mum distance of 500 metres to polar bears would des­troy the basis of a lar­ge part of the ship-based tou­rism indus­try in Sval­bard: see­ing polar bears is amongst the main rea­sons for many tou­rists who visit Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of several-day-long trips on smal­ler ships (expe­di­ti­on ships). Polar bear obser­va­tions wit­hin much shor­ter distan­ces from ships or smal­ler boats (“ten­der boats”, often Zodiacs or simi­lar boats) are more or less com­mon rou­ti­ne on many of the­se trips and do not invol­ve dan­ger for humans or ani­mals. Car­ri­ed out pro­per­ly and respect­ful­ly, such ope­ra­ti­ons do usual­ly not cau­se dis­tur­ban­ce of wild­life; chan­ges of beha­viour that may occa­sio­nal­ly occur are usual­ly not rele­vant – unless one con­si­ders it princi­pal­ly unac­cep­ta­ble that a polar bear walks a few metres away – and lead to an immedia­te dis­con­ti­nua­tion of the ope­ra­ti­on or at least to a grea­ter distance.

Approa­ching polar bears in a way that may invol­ve dan­ger for humans or ani­mals or dis­tur­ban­ce is alrea­dy for­bid­den (but NOT approa­ching in gene­ral) accord­ing to the Sval­bard envi­ron­men­tal act that has been in for­ce for a long time now. Hence, the­re is no legal defi­cit but pos­si­b­ly an enfor­ce­ment defi­cit, some­thing that would actual­ly be hard to deny but at the same time a pro­blem that will not be sol­ved by stric­ter laws.

The­re is no data that sug­gest that dis­tur­ban­ce cau­sed by tou­rists real­ly is a pro­blem for polar bears in Sval­bard. The­re is no doubt that annoy­ing indi­vi­du­al cases do hap­pen whe­re tou­rists with or without gui­de (or locals) behave in an inac­cep­ta­ble way in the pre­sence of polar bears (or other wild­life, for that sake). But the­se cases are alrea­dy cove­r­ed by exis­ting law; the pro­blem is enfor­cing the law that is in for­ce and not a need for new and stric­ter laws. And, again, the­re is no data sug­ges­ting that the­re is a sys­te­ma­tic pro­blem bey­ond indi­vi­du­al cases.

Regar­ding wal­ru­ses: a cou­p­le of years ago, the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te car­ri­ed out a pro­ject with auto­ma­tic came­ras pla­ced at a num­ber of wal­rus hau­lout sites to inves­ti­ga­te the pro­blems that traf­fic, espe­cial­ly tou­rist visits, might poten­ti­al­ly cau­se. The con­clu­si­on was that the­re is no indi­ca­ti­on that tou­rist traf­fic poses a rele­vant pro­blem.

The­se are the most important parts of the legal pro­po­sals that con­cern the inte­res­ted public also out­side Sval­bard. But the­re is more:

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (4): qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on of gui­des

Ano­t­her pro­po­sal aims at the qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on of gui­des. This has alrea­dy been a mat­ter of deba­te for a long time and hard­ly anyo­ne will deny that the­re is need for action. A rea­son­ab­le, prac­ti­ca­ble cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me would be wel­co­med by com­pa­nies, rele­vant orga­ni­sa­ti­ons (such as AECO or the Sval­bard Gui­de Asso­cia­ti­on) and many gui­des who con­si­der them­sel­ves pro­fes­sio­nals. The cur­rent pro­po­sal, howe­ver, sets the thres­hold from zero up to a level that would be very hard to reach for most. The pro­po­sal deman­ds a num­ber of cour­ses and cer­ti­fi­ca­tes that would cost an indi­vi­du­al, non-local gui­de (who would also have to pay tra­vel and accom­mo­da­tio cos­ts) an esti­ma­ted 10,000-20,000 Euro. The result might be a col­lap­se of the indus­try as almost no gui­des have the­se cer­ti­fi­ca­tes rea­dy or would be able to pro­du­ce them at more or less short noti­ce. This inclu­des expe­ri­en­ced gui­des with many years or even deca­des of expe­ri­ence who would “only” have to for­ma­li­se their know­ledge and expe­ri­ence which they have been using as part of their dai­ly rou­ti­ne for many years, but without having for­ma­li­sed the­se skills. Also many of the­se expe­ri­en­ced pro­fes­sio­nals would – espe­cial­ly con­si­de­ring the who­le legal situa­ti­on and poten­ti­al deve­lo­p­ment – think twice if they actual­ly want to go through the effort of for­ma­li­sing their exis­ting skills and know­ledge. A lot of pre­cious know­ledge might thus get lost.

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (5): depri­val of com­mu­nal voting rights from non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

And yet ano­t­her fan­tastic idea that you have to bear in mind to have kind of a com­ple­te pic­tu­re of the cur­rent poli­ti­cal deve­lo­p­ment is the stun­ning pro­po­sal to deny “for­eig­ners” the vote to right local­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (this is NOT about the natio­nal par­la­men­ta­ry elec­tions, that is not an issue any­way for tho­se who do not have Nor­we­gi­an citi­zenship).

Legal cri­ti­cism

The abo­ve-men­tio­ned legal opi­ni­on con­si­ders main­ly the part of the law pro­po­sals that is aimed at prac­ti­cal­ly clo­sing lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, but also the part that con­cerns gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on. The legal opi­ni­on leads to anni­hi­lating con­clu­si­ons regar­ding both parts.

Gene­ral cri­ti­cism that con­cerns the who­le packa­ge inclu­des the fact the the local popu­la­ti­on and their poli­ti­cal repre­sen­ta­ti­ves, and others con­cer­ned such as indus­try asso­cia­ti­ons and com­pa­nies, have not been invol­ved (com­ment for the sake of com­ple­teness: the­re is an ongo­ing public hea­ring whe­re all asso­cia­ti­ons, com­pa­nies and indi­vi­du­als who want to can give their input, but many doubt that cri­ti­cal opi­ni­ons will actual­ly be con­si­de­red and reflec­ted by the ongo­ing pro­cess. The abo­ve-men­tio­ned par­ties were not inclu­ded at any ear­lier sta­ge).

Key points of the legal opi­ni­ons regar­ding the clo­sure of lar­ge parts of Sval­bard inclu­de:

  • The­re is doubt if the legal foun­da­ti­on is suf­fi­ci­ent for such drastic mea­su­res.
  • Poor data and sci­en­ti­fic basis for such strong restric­tions.
  • Con­se­quen­ces for are­as and loca­ti­ons, inclu­ding tho­se who are to remain acces­si­ble, are not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red.
  • Important sci­en­ti­fic input given by inst­uti­ons such as NINA (Nor­we­gi­an Insti­tu­te for natu­re rese­arch. It is amongst NINA’s key tasks to sup­port legal pro­ces­ses with sci­en­ti­fic know­ledge) and the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te (dito) was not suf­fi­ci­en­ty con­si­de­red. This con­cerns amongst others the requi­red mini­mum distan­ces to polar bears and wal­ru­ses.
  • Wrong app­li­ca­ti­on of the pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le.
  • Mil­der restric­tions other than the stron­gest ones were appear­ent­ly not con­si­de­red.
  • One-sided, nega­ti­ve pre­sen­ta­ti­on of tou­rism in Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly crui­se tou­rism, without good basis by data or sci­en­ti­fic input.

Also the legal pro­po­sal that con­cerns amongst others cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­mes for gui­des does get some sub­stan­ti­al cri­ti­cism:

  • Con­se­quen­ces for the indus­try were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red, for examp­le cos­ts esti­ma­ted bet­ween 10,000 and 20,000 Euro for non-local gui­des.
  • Limi­ted capa­ci­ties and exis­ting com­pe­tence were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red.
  • Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve con­se­quen­ces were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red: how much addi­tio­nal effort would an enlar­ge­ned regis­tra­ti­on and admi­ni­nis­tra­ti­on sche­me for traf­fic invol­ve? How many addi­tio­nal admi­nis­tra­ti­ve posi­ti­ons, time and cos­ts have to be expec­ted?
  • Con­se­quen­ces for the local popu­la­ti­on and com­mu­ni­ty were not suf­fi­ci­en­ty con­si­de­red, for examp­le the con­se­quen­ces for the attrac­ti­vi­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en as a place to live. Many peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are pro­fes­sio­nal­ly direct­ly or indi­rect­ly con­nec­ted to tou­rism.

Con­clu­si­on

The con­clu­si­on of the legal opi­ni­on is clear: the law pro­po­sals should be with­drawn and draf­ted again from scratch, with a new defi­ni­ti­on of the aims that are actual­ly to be achie­ved and a new con­si­de­ra­ti­on of the legal basis and sci­en­ti­fic input.

On the other hand, opti­mism amongst tho­se who are con­cer­ned that rele­vant aut­ho­ri­ties are wil­ling to lis­ten to opi­ni­ons other than their own ones is rather limi­ted, to put it mild­ly. With­drawing a pro­po­sal that is public at least indi­rect­ly implies a con­fes­si­on that some­thing was not right from the start, some­thing that aut­ho­ri­ties are usual­ly not real­ly good at.

On the other hand, as it is said in the Nor­we­gi­an moun­tain rules: it is never too late to turn around.

click here to access a page of the Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ty (“Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat”) with fur­ther docu­ments, inclu­ding (a bit fur­ther down on the page) Eng­lish trans­la­ti­ons of the Eng­lish ori­gi­nals. The­re is also a link to the page with the hea­ring pro­ce­du­re, which is open until 01 May 2022.

Two dead polar bears in ear­ly 2020: cri­ti­cism and inves­ti­ga­ti­ons

In ear­ly 2020, two polar bears died under the hands of Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties wit­hin just a few weeks: one was shot in the ear­ly morning hours of 01 Janu­a­ry by the poli­ce (Sys­sel­mes­ter; then Sys­sel­man­nen) several kilo­me­tres away from town, alt­hough it was not an emer­gen­cy situa­ti­on. Accord­ing to an offi­cial press release, ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on and trans­por­ta­ti­on to a remo­ter area were not avail­ab­le becau­se rele­vant per­so­nell was not avail­ab­le becau­se of the Christ­mas holi­days (click here to read more about this case).

Only a few weeks later, on 30 Janu­a­ry, ano­t­her polar bear died during heli­co­p­ter trans­port after ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on (click here and here to read more about this case).

It does not sur­pri­se that both cases were met with a lot of public cri­ti­cism. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties loo­ked into the case, espe­cial­ly the second one, and came to the con­clu­si­on that the­re was not enough com­pe­tence pre­sent to hand­le the pro­ce­du­re of ana­es­the­ti­zing a polar bear in this given case and that the pro­ce­du­res were gene­ral­ly not good enough. The­re was, for examp­le, no vet pre­sent when the polar bear was ana­es­the­ti­zed alt­hough vets were pre­sent in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and could have been cal­led to assist on short noti­ce (click here to read more about offi­cial inves­ti­ga­ti­ons and cri­ti­cism of this case).

anaesthetized polar bear and helicopter Longyearbyen

Pre­pa­ra­ti­on of an ana­es­the­ti­zed polar bear near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (2016).

In addi­ti­on, the Nor­we­gi­an Bureau for the Inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Poli­ce Affairs (“Spe­sia­len­he­ten for poli­tisa­ker”) star­ted offi­cial inves­ti­ga­ti­ons later in 2020. Both Sys­sel­man­nen (gover­nor and poli­ce; today known as Sys­sel­mes­ter) and the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, an aut­ho­ri­ty direct­ly invol­ved in such cases to pro­vi­de advice and actual­ly car­ry out rele­vant parts of the hand­ling, were suspect of negli­gence.

In the end, a report was publis­hed recent­ly, con­clu­ding that the cri­mi­nal inves­ti­ga­ti­on was clo­sed becau­se the­re was no evi­dence for cri­mi­nal­ly liable beha­viour. But the report men­ti­ons rele­vant mista­kes and ina­de­qua­te rou­ti­nes and com­mits the Sys­sel­mes­ter to impro­ve the rou­ti­nes.

It is remar­kab­le that the Nor­we­gi­an Bureau for the Inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Poli­ce Affairs actual­ly took up the case, and the result is, at best, a second-class ver­dict of not guil­ty. Defi­ni­te­ly anything but a com­pli­ment for Sys­sel­mes­ter and Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, the aut­ho­ri­ties who are offi­cial­ly deci­ding on and hand­ling polar bears in rele­vant cases. It can be assu­med that both polar bears might still be ali­ve given pro­per hand­ling of tho­se cases.

So far, Nor­we­gi­an poli­cy and prac­ti­cal hand­ling from offi­cial side don’t seem to know more opti­ons in such cases than sca­ring polar bears away with cars, snow mobi­les or heli­co­p­ters – a prac­ti­ce about which cri­tics say that it actual­ly tea­ches polar bears who don’t run away immedia­te­ly that it is not dan­ge­rous to be in the vicini­ty of peop­le and loud vehi­cles – and then, ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on and trans­port or a dead­ly bul­let. Non-let­hal deter­rents such as pep­per spray or pep­per pro­jec­ti­les or rub­ber bul­lets, which may make it very clear to a bear that being in the vicini­ty of peop­le isn’t a good thing without actual­ly inju­ring or even kil­ling the ani­mal, are not (yet?) part of the tool­box that tho­se who hand­le the­se cases on offi­cial behalf seem to have con­si­de­red a lot. It appears that the­re is still a les­son to be learnt and room for impro­ve­ment.

The “arc­tic Wed­nes­day” con­ti­nued

The “arc­tic Wed­nes­day” is about to con­ti­nue soon! Bir­git Lutz and I have sche­du­led 6 dates and the­mes for our the con­ti­nua­tion of our popu­lar seri­es of online pre­sen­ta­ti­ons in Decem­ber 2021 and Janu­a­ry 2022. No les­ser than the famous adven­tu­rer Arved Fuchs will open the new seri­es with his pre­sen­ta­ti­on “Shack­le­ton 2000”, his nar­ra­ti­on of his adven­tures in Ernest Shackleton’s foots­teps!

The pre­sen­ta­ti­ons will be held in Ger­man.

  • 01.12.: Arved Fuchs, “Shack­le­ton 2000”
  • 08.12.: Rolf Stan­ge, “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den: Spitz­ber­gen”
  • 15.12.: Bir­git Lutz, “Auf Ski­ern zum Nord­pol”
  • 20.12. (a Mon­day, just for the dif­fe­rence): Bir­git Lutz & Rolf Stan­ge with “Weih­nach­ten im Eis”
  • 12.01.2022: Bir­git Lutz with “Heu­te gehen wir Wale fan­gen”
  • 19.01.2022: Rolf Stan­ge with “Das Licht des Nor­dens”

Plea­se refer to my online shop for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on and boo­king. We hope to see you soon during the “arc­tic Wed­nes­day” pre­sen­ta­ti­ons!

Birgit Lutz & Rolf Stange: arctic Wednesday

Bir­git Lutz and Rolf Stan­ge are loo­king for­ward to the third seri­es of the “arc­tic Wed­nes­day”.

Pro­test against government poli­tics: torch­light pro­ces­si­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The Sval­bard poli­cy of the government in Oslo cur­r­ent­ly frus­tra­tes a lot of peop­le, both Spits­ber­gen locals, Lon­gye­ar­by­en poli­ti­ci­ans and con­cer­ned indus­try sec­tors. Epi­cen­tres of the cur­rent frus­tra­ti­on are the poten­ti­al clo­sing of lar­ge parts of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go and the threa­tening with­dra­wal of the right to vote on a com­mu­ni­ty level (! not natio­nal) for non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens living in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (see lin­ked arti­cles for fur­ther details on the­se issu­es).

The­se pro­po­sals have both been made by the government in Oslo. As of now, final decisi­ons have not been made yet.

And both pro­po­sals were made by the Nor­we­gi­an government without invol­ving local poli­ti­ci­ans or the peop­le living in Spits­ber­gen or indus­tries working the­re. The­re is the public hea­ring, but that is qui­te late in the day to invol­ve the local coun­cil. And based on expe­ri­ence from recent hea­rings, trust that the input given into such pro­ces­ses will actual­ly be heard is rather limi­ted, to put it mild­ly.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: many peop­le living here are cur­r­ent­ly sho­cked about poli­ti­cal pro­po­sals com­ing from Oslo. If the sun is poli­ti­cal­ly going up or down over this beau­ti­ful place is a ques­ti­on that remains to be ans­we­red by natio­nal poli­ti­ci­ans soon.

Many peop­le who live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en or who other­wi­se have a strong con­nec­tion to Sval­bard are now fed up with this way to rule the place. The is “NOK er NOK” (“enough is enough”). Local groups and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons have now cal­led on the local public to join a torch­light pro­ces­si­on today (Tues­day, 16 novem­ber) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Poli­ti­ci­ans, locals, orga­ni­sa­ti­ons and com­pa­nies in and con­nec­ted with Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Sval­bard want to be heard and invol­ved when it comes to decisi­ons that may well deci­de over their future. The demand is that both poli­ti­cal pro­po­sals, regar­ding both the clo­sing of lar­ge parts of the archi­pe­la­go and the idea to depri­ve non-Nor­we­gi­an locals of their voting rights, disap­pe­ar from the poli­ti­cal agen­da in Oslo.

Orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that cal­led on the public to join their pro­test inclu­de Sval­bard nærings­fo­re­ning (an orga­ni­sa­ti­on of local indus­tries and com­pa­nies), AECO (an orga­ni­sa­ti­on repre­sen­ting the expe­di­ti­on crui­se ope­ra­tors), Lon­gye­ar­by­en jeger- og fis­kerfo­re­ning (club of local hun­ters and fishers), To-tak­te­ren (club for snow mobi­le and boat enthu­si­asts), Sval­bard Turn (local sports club with a lar­ge num­ber of out­door enthu­si­asts amongst the mem­bers) and the Sval­bard Gui­de Asso­cia­ti­on. Altog­e­ther, the­se orga­ni­sa­ti­ons repre­sent an impres­si­ve num­ber of peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but also else­whe­re.

Due to the wea­ther, today’s pro­test may turn out to be a head­lamp pro­ces­si­on rather than a torch­light pro­ces­si­ons.

Longyearbyen fakkeltog

Today’s torch­light pro­ces­si­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Pho­to © Fran­ka Lei­te­rer.

Ves­t­fjord

Ves­t­fjord, this lar­ge, half-open stretch of water bet­ween Lofo­ten and the Nor­we­gi­an main­land, can be a bit of a bas­tard. I remem­ber defi­ni­te­ly more head­winds and unplea­sant waves during the many cros­sings of Ves­t­fjord than fair sai­ling winds. Also this time it was a bum­py road from Kabel­våg to Bodø. But well, that’s life, we’ve got­ta take it as it comes. Wea­ther.

In Bodø, this voya­ge came to an end, and hence my nort­hern sea­son in this slight­ly mixed year 2021. It brought less time in the Arc­tic than I had ori­gi­nal­ly been hoping for but more than fea­red at some sta­ge.

It was a beau­ti­ful and good, cer­tain­ly inclu­ding this final voya­ge on SV Anti­gua. Gre­at thanks to ever­y­bo­dy who was part of this time! First of all Cap­tain Ser­ge and his good crew – I am loo­king for­ward to see­ing you again next year up north (or else­whe­re, for that sake)! Mean­while, safe and hap­py sai­ling!

This is the last tra­vel blog ent­ry for this year. If you want to con­ti­nue enjoy­ing the beau­ty and fasci­na­ti­on of the Arc­tic also in Decem­ber and Janu­a­ry, then join Bir­git Lutz and my during our online pre­sen­ta­ti­on seri­es “Der ark­ti­sche Mitt­woch” (Ger­man) 🙂

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Lofo­ten: Viking muse­um Borg

Con­si­de­ring the wea­ther, this was defi­ni­te­ly the per­fect day for a visit to the Lofotr Viking muse­um in Borg on the Lofo­ten island of Ves­t­vå­gøy. Con­si­de­ring the wind, a bus ride was cer­tain­ly bet­ter than a ship voya­ge today, and loo­king at the rain, a bus ride was cer­tain­ly bet­ter than hiking today … so that worked well 🙂

The Lofotr Viking muse­um is real­ly inte­res­ting, inclu­ding a beau­ti­ful recon­struc­tion of a 83 m long chieftain’s house. We were lucky to get a gui­ded tour by Chris­ti­an, a true viking and as power­ful­ly elo­quent as coro­na pro­of. Altog­e­ther it was almost temp­t­ing to try viking life here for a while … well, almost, I qui­te like living in our modern times and I wouldn’t exchan­ge it for a pro­bab­ly much shor­ter and defi­ni­te­ly much har­der life in the 8th or 9th cen­tu­ry.

And it was not “only” the muse­um. My per­so­nal high­light was the sigh­t­ing of an adult male elk near the road on Ves­t­vå­gøy – the traf­fic situa­ti­on didn’t allow us to stop, unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly – and then we did several stops to enjoy the Lofo­ten sce­ne­ry on the way back on Ves­t­vå­gøy, Gim­søy and Aus­t­vå­gøy. Beau­ti­ful land­s­capes, espe­cial­ly as the clouds kind­ly kept their water during tho­se moments.

In the end, we still had time for a visit in the famous Lofo­ten aqua­ri­um in Kabel­våg.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Troll­fjord & Kabel­våg

Troll­fjord is wide­ly famous for its stun­ning sce­ne­ry and sea eagles (they live any­whe­re in the wide regi­on up here, but Troll­fjord is defi­ni­te­ly a good place to see them). We were the­re in the right time to see the won­der­ful land­s­cape in its full beau­ty.

The same app­lies to the sea eagles. We got to see an ama­zing num­ber of them. That was, to some degree, coin­ci­dence, but not an ent­i­re­ly natu­ral one: while we were play­ing in Troll­fjord, a smal­ler motor boat came in with tou­rists, pro­bab­ly from Svol­vær, and star­ted put­ting out pie­ces of fish. The sea eagles clear­ly knew the ritu­al, as they came down even befo­re that boat had actual­ly stop­ped! Dir­ty trick, pos­si­b­ly, but it works qui­te obvious­ly well.

A few hours later we went along­side in Kabel­våg, the his­to­ri­cal cent­re of the Lofo­ten islands. We went to have a good look around in wea­ther that was get­ting incre­a­singly less enjoya­ble. The fore­cast pro­mi­ses rather unplea­sant con­di­ti­ons for the days to come.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Skrol­s­vik & Har­stad

The litt­le har­bour of Skrol­s­vik on the sou­the­as­tern point of the lovely island of Sen­ja lies some­what deser­ted bet­ween the sea, some small islands and moun­tains with gre­at hiking rou­tes.

In cer­tain ear­lier times, the stra­te­gi­cal posi­ti­on attrac­ted „visi­tors“ with pro­noun­ced­ly less peace­ful inten­ti­ons. During the occup­a­ti­on in the war years from 1940, the Ger­man Wehr­macht built a coas­tal for­ti­fi­ca­ti­on here to con­trol the nort­hern ship­ping rou­te to the important port of Nar­vik. It is, again and again, incredi­ble how much effort peop­le put into things that are just made to des­troy other things. The guns, later kept by the Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry for many years, are now slow­ly rus­ting away, and the bun­kers are more and more wea­the­ring and cove­r­ed by vege­ta­ti­on.

Later we made a stop in Har­stad, a cent­re of civi­li­sa­ti­on on Hin­nøya in Ves­terå­len.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Ham­nes & Lyn­gen­fjord

On Satur­day evening we arri­ved in Ham­nes just in time to see a most ama­zing nort­hern light. A green spi­ral with some pur­p­le edges was dan­cing in rapid move­ments over the sky. Stun­ning!

And so was the fol­lowing day. A gol­den morning in Ham­nes on the island of Uløya. Hiking opti­ons are vir­tual­ly end­less – as far as you can walk or as time allows.

Crui­sing out of Lyn­gen­fjord was just as impres­si­ve and beau­ti­ful. The wea­ther chan­ged rapidly from gol­den sun­light to dark grey snow squalls with a hint of pur­p­le. Ama­zing and quick­ly chan­ging light con­di­ti­ons in front of the sce­nic back­ground of the Lyn­gen Alps.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

With Anti­gua from Trom­sø to Bodø: Kvæn­an­gen

Back on the waves again with good old Anti­gua! We have one week ahead of us, sear­ching for beau­ti­ful impres­si­ons and expe­ri­en­ces in north Nor­way on the way from Trom­sø to Bodø.

Kvæn­an­gen is actual­ly not real­ly on this way, but we have got enough time for some extra miles. The wea­ther is fine, we know that the wha­les are the­re, so we set cour­se to the nor­the­ast.

And this tur­ned out to be a good decisi­on 🙂

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Finn­kro­ken

The (almost) last evening, the last day. Finn­kro­ken on the island of Reinøya. An old tra­ding place, now kind of a muse­um, camp­fire atmo­s­phe­re in a lavu, a holy place of the Sami peop­le, wide views over fjell and fjord.

A last cou­p­le of hours sai­ling time take us to Trom­sø, whe­re this trip comes to an end. It was a good one, thank you all very much! Save tra­vels back home or good onward jour­ney, and see you next time! 🙂

As far as I am con­cer­ned, I have the shor­test move ever. From Cape Race to Anti­gua. Both ships are lying along­side each other. We will take off again tonight!

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Kvæn­an­gen: Orcas & Skje­r­vøy

Kvæn­an­gen has given us ple­nty of beau­ty the last cou­p­le of days. But we had not yet seen much of the famous orcas, other than a very brief and distant sigh­t­ing two days ago. May­be today? This would be our third and last attempt. It is not that ever­ything comes easi­ly and for free in the the far north. Well, the two pre­vious wha­le­watching excur­si­ons had been beau­ti­ful – with hump­back and fin wha­les – but we were still hoping for orcas.

And we did see them today. What an incredi­ble morning!

Later we went and had a look at Skje­r­vøy, the metro­po­lis of the Kvæn­an­gen area. The first har­bour whe­re the Fram came back to civi­li­sa­ti­on in 1896 after her famous drift across the Arc­tic Oce­an. Good to stretch legs a bit!

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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