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Yearly Archives: 2021 − News & Stories


Offi­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me for gui­des in Spits­ber­gen on the way

The Nor­we­gi­an government has star­ted work on a new set of rules for tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen. With the depart­ment of tra­de and indus­try and the depart­ment of jus­ti­ce, two minis­tries are invol­ved in the work which will touch many aspects. It appears that gui­des will play one cen­tral rule. Gui­des are pre­sent during any tou­ris­tic acti­vi­ty in Spits­ber­gen and they play a cen­tral rule in mul­ti­ple ways: they car­ry respon­si­bi­li­ty for a qua­li­ty expe­ri­ence, often with an edu­ca­tio­nal aspect, for safe­ty – an important aspect in a poten­ti­al­ly dan­ge­rous envi­ron­ment such as the Arc­tic – and for com­pli­an­ce with a ran­ge of legal regu­la­ti­ons and indus­try and com­pa­ny stan­dards con­cer­ning safe­ty and the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment inclu­ding wild­life and cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge.

The polar gui­de: a cen­tral posi­ti­on, but not a pro­tec­ted pro­fes­si­on

One can only won­der that such a cen­tral pro­fes­si­on wit­hin an indus­try that is more than one hund­red years old* and that has seen deca­des of inten­se indus­tri­al deve­lo­p­ment both local­ly and inter­na­tio­nal­ly, is not pro­tec­ted. Anyo­ne can offer gui­de ser­vices. Of cour­se the­re is a ran­ge of con­si­de­ra­ti­ons and initia­ti­ves to cer­ti­fy qua­li­fied gui­des, and this has been going on for many years now both local­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Visit Sval­bard) as well as inter­na­tio­nal­ly (PTGA), and many acti­ve gui­des have used one or ano­t­her sup­plier to achie­ve some kind of cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on. And of cour­se, AECO, the “Asso­cia­ti­on of Expe­di­ti­on Crui­se Ope­ra­tors”, is working on the issue and various tour ope­ra­tors have deve­lo­ped their own qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on sche­mes.

*Regu­lar com­mer­cial Spits­ber­gen crui­ses star­ted in 1891 with Wil­helm Bade.

Guide, tourists and walrusee in Spitsbergen

Tou­rists obser­ving wal­ru­ses in Spits­ber­gen: the gui­de play a key role in enab­ling tou­rists to have a good, safe expe­ri­ence without dis­tur­bing the wild­life or doing any other kind of harm to natu­re.

The pro­blem is: the­re is, so far, no offi­cial­ly ack­now­led­ged cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on. It is unclear who can and will issue ack­now­led­ged cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­ons, which qua­li­fi­ca­ti­ons will be requi­red for cer­ti­fi­a­ti­on, how, whe­re and by whom the­se shall be veri­fied and so on.

The Nor­we­gi­an government is working on an offi­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me for Spits­ber­gen gui­des

This is sup­po­sed to chan­ge. The Nor­we­gi­an government has asked the indus­try and other inte­res­ted par­ties to give their input and to make sug­ges­ti­ons.

Many might bene­fit from a well thought-through cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me, inclu­ding the gui­des them­sel­ves. Pay­ment and work con­di­ti­ons in parts of the indus­try have repeated­ly been sub­ject to cri­ti­cism in recent years. It is easy for com­pa­nies to replace expe­ri­en­ced employees by new­co­mers when a pro­fes­si­on is not pro­tec­ted. The­re are ple­nty of young peop­le who would be wil­ling to work for next to not­hing or even for free for a sea­son of adven­ture in the Arc­tic. This may even be under­stand­a­ble from the individual’s posi­ti­on, but it is, at the same time, a very unfor­tu­n­a­te struc­tu­re for expe­ri­en­ced pro­fes­sio­nals who want to be just that – pro­fes­sio­nals in the sen­se that they want to make a living of their work.

Ide­al­ly, ever­y­boy could bene­fit: tou­rists, the indus­try, the envi­ron­ment – and the gui­des

Addi­tio­nal­ly, many gui­des have alrea­dy put a lot of effort into aqui­ring cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­ons without knowing if and by whom they will real­ly be accep­ted. Essen­ti­al­ly, any step wit­hin qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on is a good step, but if it invol­ves more bureau­cra­cy than anything else to docu­ment know­ledge and expe­ri­ence that some have used and shown in ever­y­day work in years, without being cer­tain that it is real­ly worth the effort, then it is under­stand­a­ble that a cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me roo­ted in rele­vant legis­la­ti­on may pro­vi­de plan­ning relia­bi­li­ty that makes it worth to spend some time and effort on.

Spits­ber­gen is get­ting vac­ci­na­ted

Spitsbergen’s coro­na immu­ni­sa­ti­on sche­du­le is making good pro­gress. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has not yet been local­ly recor­ded, which is almost sur­pri­sing as the­re have been ple­nty of infec­tions in main­land Nor­way and tou­rists are regu­lar­ly com­ing from the­re. It seems to be com­mon that they think that the man­da­to­ry use of face masks, for examp­le in shops, does not app­ly to them.

The government in Oslo is well awa­re of Spitsbergen’s remo­te loca­ti­on, which would cau­se mas­si­ve pro­blems in case of a local Covid-19 brea­k­out. The local hos­pi­tal is not pre­pa­red to take care of coro­na pati­ents, and evacua­ting pati­ents to the main­land invol­ves a huge logisti­cal effort. Nor­way has thus deci­ded to give Spits­ber­gen prio­ri­ty wit­hin the natio­nal coro­na immu­ni­sa­ti­on sche­du­le. This app­lies not only to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but also to the other sett­le­ments, such as Bar­ents­burg, Ny-Åle­sund and the rese­arch sta­ti­on in Horn­sund.

Corona immunisation

“You shall not pass!”
Longyearbyen’s stra­te­gy against the coro­na virus, and the who­le world’s.
Not Spits­ber­gen, but ano­t­her fan­tastic world. Author’s work based on a drawing by Gon­za­lo Ken­ny (the ori­gi­nal sce­ne in “The Lord of the Rings” invol­ves a slight­ly lar­ger, high­ly “inflamm­a­ble” virus 🙂 )

More than 1400 per­sons have alrea­dy been vac­ci­na­ted in Spits­ber­gen, inclu­ding about 90 who have alrea­dy got full pro­tec­tion with two requi­red injec­tions, as Sval­bard­pos­ten reports. Today (Thurs­day, 06 May), ano­t­her 500 per­sons are to get their vac­ci­na­ti­on. This means that a lar­ge pro­por­ti­on of Spitsbergen’s adult popu­la­ti­on will soon be vac­ci­na­ted at least once.

As ever­y­whe­re in the world, this invol­ves hopes for incre­a­sed per­so­nal safe­ty and the chan­ce to return to nor­mal life. As of now, it is not known when this will come for inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­ling. The government in Oslo has announ­ced to make rele­vant decisi­ons in May. Nor­way does also take part in the Euro­pean pro­ject of a digi­tal vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te, which is sche­du­led to be avail­ab­le from late June. But it will be every government’s indi­vi­du­al decisi­on what kind of opti­ons owners of such a docu­ment will have, such as ent­ry to a coun­try for non-essen­ti­al pur­po­ses or par­ti­ci­pa­ting in a ship-based voya­ge. But it cer­tain­ly appears as a rea­so­nal pos­si­bi­li­ty that ack­now­led­ged docu­men­ta­ti­on of a coro­na vac­ci­na­ti­on may con­tri­bu­te to such oppor­tu­nities.

Spits­ber­gen with SV Anti­gua (23.6.-11.7.): can­cel­led due to Coro­na

This latest can­cel­la­ti­on due to the coro­na cri­sis is defi­ni­te­ly a hard blow: the long Spits­ber­gen trip with SV Anti­gua from June 23 to July 11, 2021, is now can­cel­led. The par­ti­ci­pants will now be con­ta­c­ted by the Geo­gra­phi­schen Rei­se­ge­sell­schaft.

We had to make a decisi­on tog­e­ther with the owner of the Anti­gua, the Tall­ship Com­pa­ny. The cur­rent coro­na deve­lo­p­ment and rela­ted tra­vel restric­tions did not lea­ve us with any other choice. We would have loved to see a more effi­ci­ent start of the Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on pro­gram­me, this might have made a dif­fe­rence but it was too slow to enab­le this kind of tra­vel­ling in June/July.

Spitsbergen with Antigua: cancelled because of corona

Spits­ber­gen with Anti­gua (June 23 – July 11): can­cel­led becau­se of coro­na.

Fin­ger cros­sed that we can car­ry out the remai­ning trips later in the sea­son, with SY Arc­ti­ca II in August/September and SV Anti­gua in Sep­tem­ber.

It pro­bab­ly goes without say­ing: anyo­ne who wants to tra­vel this sum­mer, will be well advi­sed to make use of the first oppor­tu­ni­ty to get a coro­na vac­ci­na­ti­on. Not­hing is offi­cial as of now, but it appears to be a rea­listic sce­n­a­rio that Nor­way may lift tra­vel restric­tions and pos­si­b­ly enab­le par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on in ship-based tou­rism initi­al­ly for tho­se who are ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted.

Trap­pers Trail: local dog sledge race took place

The­se days, it is news in its­elf if some­thing actual­ly hap­pens! This was the case last wee­kend, when the local dog sledge race “Trap­pers Trail” took place. You can’t pos­si­b­ly ima­gi­ne a public event with bet­ter distance and ven­ti­la­ti­on than a dog sledge race!

“Trap­pers Trail” is an annu­al event orga­nis­ed by the Lon­gye­ar­by­en dog club (hun­de­klub­ben) – they are the ones with the kennel near the polar bear warning sign next to the lake in Advent­da­len. It is an event for local mem­bers of the club, more a social event than a com­pe­ti­ti­on. Well, it is also a com­pe­ti­ti­on, but it is more than just that.

Trappers Trail: dog sledge race of the Longyearbyen dog club

Start of this year’s Trap­pers Trail: the tra­di­tio­nal dog sledge race
for the mem­bers of the Lon­gye­ar­by­en dog club.

The Trap­pers Trail race takes two days. The rou­te does requi­re a good level of trai­ning from all par­ti­ci­pants, both on four and on two legs. It takes them from Lon­gye­ar­by­en via Advent­da­len, Toda­len, Bøda­len and Cole­s­da­len to Cole­s­buk­ta – about 40 km in total – whe­re the dog club has a club house. The par­ti­ci­pants spend a night in tents and then return via Farda­len and the gla­cier Lon­gyear­breen. This second leg is about 30 km long – a bit shor­ter, but Fard­als­bak­ken, the ascent from Farda­len up to the pass over to Lon­gyear­breen, will push most teams into their reser­ves, befo­re the long descent down Lon­gyear­breen usual­ly pro­vi­des a rela­xed final run back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Trappers Trail: dog sledge race of the Longyearbyen dog club

Cole­s­buk­ta is the desti­na­ti­on of the first day. Here, Lon­gye­ar­by­en dog club owns a hut and the par­ti­ci­pants of the Trap­pers Trail race spend a night in tents befo­re they return on Sunday
(archi­ve image).

The race is an annu­al high­light for the club mem­bers and local onloo­kers. The com­ple­te event hap­pens out­side and was thus pos­si­ble to hap­pen also under coro­na con­di­ti­ons.

Trap­pers Trail: Pho­to gal­le­ry

Max Schwei­ger was on loca­ti­on and pro­vi­ded pho­tos – tusen takk, Max!

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

Arc­tic online pre­sen­ta­ti­ons “Arc­tic Wed­nes­day”: final night with Tho­mas Ulrich

It star­ted with a cou­p­le of pre­sen­ta­ti­ons in Novem­ber and Decem­ber, and in Janu­a­ry, Bir­git Lutz and I joi­ned for­ces and crea­ted the online pre­sen­ta­ti­on seri­es “The Arc­tic Wed­nes­day”. Next Wed­nes­day, 28 April, the cur­rent seri­es will come to an end, when the Swiss polar adven­tu­rer Tho­mas Ulrich takes up to the hig­hest lati­tu­des. “Arc­tic Solo” is the dra­ma­tic sto­ry of a North Pole Expe­di­ti­on that brought Tho­mas into dan­ge­rous and despe­ra­te situa­tions – ant it is the sto­ry of Tho­mas fin­ding a way out and to con­ti­nue stron­ger than ever.

Thomas Ulrich: Arctic Solo, online presentation

Tho­mas Ulrich: “Arc­tic Solo”. A dra­ma­tic adven­ture as the final high­light of the arc­tic online pre­sen­ta­ti­on seri­es “The Arc­tic Wed­nes­day”.

Whe­re Bir­git and I, with con­tri­bu­ti­ons by Udo Zoephel (the MOSAiC-expe­di­ti­on), San­dra Wal­ser (Hans Beat Wieland/Wilhelm Bade) and Hen­ry Páll Wul­ff (Ice­land), focus­sed on know­ledge of dif­fe­rent arc­tic are­as and various chap­ters of the regio­nal histo­ry, Tho­mas will take us out into the wild! A final high­light that were a real­ly exci­ted about, and we hope that many of you will join us!

The pre­sen­ta­ti­on will be in Ger­man. Click here for tickets.

Thomas Ulrich: Arctic Solo, online presentation

In the pre­sen­ta­ti­on “Arc­tic Solo”, we will encoun­ter a lot of ice, icy tem­pe­ra­tures and defi­ni­te­ly a polar bear every now and then.

The pro­ject “The Arc­tic Wed­nes­day” has deve­lo­ped with ama­zing for­ce and it has kept us busy for several mon­ths. It has car­ri­ed us through a peri­od that is not the easiest of all times for the tra­vel indus­try, espe­cial­ly for self-employ­ed/­free­lan­ce guides/expedition leaders/authors/photographers who often can not count on public sup­port during the coro­na cri­sis. So the “Arc­tic Wed­nes­day” has been a pro­ject of vital impor­t­ance for us – a big, warm, heart-felt “thank you” to ever­y­bo­dy who has joi­ned us on Wed­nes­day evenings sin­ce ear­ly Janu­a­ry! We will con­ti­nue, that’s pret­ty sure. But after next Wednesday’s pre­sen­ta­ti­on, it is time for a break. Both Bir­git and I have got other pro­jects that do requi­re our atten­ti­on, and let’s hop that the arc­tic sum­mer will give us the chan­ce to tra­vel again. Fin­gers cros­sed!

Tho­mas Ulrich: Arc­tic Solo (pre­sen­ta­ti­on)

Some impres­si­on of Tho­mas Ulrich’s arc­tic adven­tures. Join us on Wed­nes­day for more!

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

Cod war bet­ween Nor­way and EU about to esca­la­te

A new “cod war”, a con­flict about fishing rights, has been lur­king in the Bar­ents Sea alrea­dy for some time. The pro­blem is a dis­agree­ment about cod quo­tas for Euro­pean fishing ships in the 200 mile zone around Sval­bard. The mat­ter is com­plex.

The pro­blem: EU fishing quo­tas after the Bre­x­it

On the sur­face, the pro­blem appears to be new quo­tas for Euro­pean fishing ves­sels that Nor­way has set after the Bre­x­it by deduc­ting the Bri­tish quo­ta from the Euro­pean allo­wan­ce. The new Euro­pean quo­ta amounts to 17,885 tons, accord­ing to NRK, while Bri­tish fishing ves­sels are affor­ded a quo­ta of 5,000 tons. The EU, howe­ver, is not hap­py about this new quo­ta and reac­ted by allo­ca­ting them­sel­ves a quo­ta of 28,431 tons, some­thing that is not accep­ted by Nor­way. The EU accu­sed the cur­rent Nor­we­gi­an fishe­ry poli­cy of being arbi­tra­ry and discri­mi­na­to­ry.

Both sides have now ver­bal­ly rig­ged up, both say­ing they are pre­pa­red to take steps as necessa­ry to take care of their rights. Nor­way has made clear that coast­guard and poli­ce are rea­dy to take the usu­al steps in case they find fishing ves­sels with ille­gal catch in their waters, inclu­ding con­fis­ca­ti­on of ships and cat­ches and arre­sta­ti­on of crews. It was Lars Fau­se, chief pro­se­cu­tor in north Nor­way, who said this. Later this year, Fau­se will fol­low Sys­sel­mann Kjers­tin Askholt in Lon­gye­ar­by­en as the first one to bear the gen­der-neu­tral tit­le Sys­sel­mes­ter.

Cod, Spitsbergen

Yum­my cod taken in Isfjord.
The con­flict bet­ween the EU and Nor­way is, howe­ver, about other volu­mes.

Key pro­blem: the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty

But the essen­ti­al pro­blem is hid­den in the para­graphs of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. The second arti­cle of the trea­ty gua­ran­tees that “Ships and natio­nals of all the High Con­trac­ting Par­ties shall enjoy equal­ly the rights of fishing and hun­ting in the ter­ri­to­ries spe­ci­fied in Arti­cle 1 and in their ter­ri­to­ri­al waters.” The pro­blem is the defi­ni­ti­on of “ter­ri­to­ri­al waters”. The Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty was signed in 1920. Until then, most coun­tries loo­ked upon coas­tal waters wit­hin 3 miles (a gun shot) as their ter­ri­to­ri­al waters. It was not befo­re 1921 that governments began to inclu­de the waters as far out as 12 miles into their own ter­ri­to­ry. Until today, this is not ever­y­whe­re as clear­ly defi­ned as one might think or wish, but as far as this, the­re is con­sen­sus in the area in ques­ti­on: ever­y­bo­dy agrees that the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty is valid wit­hin the 12 mile zone (ter­ri­to­ri­al waters) around Sval­bard, mea­ning that fishing ships of all trea­ty par­ties enjoy equal rights the­re.

The pro­blem starts when it comes to the exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic zone (EEZ), which stret­ches as far as 200 miles from the coast. Hence, the EEZ is much lar­ger and inclu­des lar­ge and valu­able bio­lo­gi­cal resour­ces. The EEZ was, howe­ver, not defi­ned in inter­na­ti­nal law befo­re 1982, when the United Nati­ons Con­ven­ti­on on the Law of the Sea was con­clu­ded.

Based on arti­cle 1 of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, Nor­way claims “full and abso­lu­te sov­er­eig­n­ty” also of the lar­ge exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic zone (200 mile zone), but insists at the same time that arti­cle 2 ot the same trea­ty, which gives all trea­ty par­ties equal rights, is not valid the­re. In con­trast, Nor­way claims exclu­si­ve rights in the EEZ. It does not real­ly sur­pri­se that the­re are tho­se trea­ty par­ties who do not agree with this posi­ti­on.

Coastguard, Spitsbergen

The coast­guard gua­ran­tees Nor­we­gi­an sov­er­eig­n­ty in the waters around Spits­ber­gen. Unfriend­ly encoun­ters of coast­guard ves­sels and EU fishing ves­sels may be com­ing up.

The Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty and the “exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic zone (EEZ)”

Wha­te­ver one’s posi­ti­on is on the ques­ti­on wether or not the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty and its fun­da­men­tal princip­le of equal rights and access (non-discri­mi­na­ti­on) is to be app­lied in the EEZ, the­re can hard­ly be any doubts that fishing ves­sels from the EU or third coun­tries need to respect Nor­we­gi­an eco­no­mi­c­al rights in the­se waters. The ques­ti­on is, howe­ver, how Nor­way may balan­ce the quo­tas that are allo­ca­ted to for­eign fishing ves­sels rela­ti­ve to their natio­nal quo­tas: accord­ing to the princip­le of non-discri­mi­na­ti­on (if arti­cle 2 of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty is to be app­lied) or exclu­si­ve­ly.

A com­plex mat­ter. What is clear­ly mis­sing is an aut­ho­ri­ty accap­ted by all sides that could deci­de on such mat­ters of inter­pre­ta­ti­on regar­ding the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. Nor­way insists to pos­sess the exclu­si­ve aut­ho­ri­ty to such ques­ti­ons, but that is not accep­ted by Brussels.

While the­re is poli­ti­cal and juri­di­cal need for cla­ri­fi­ca­ti­on, both the Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard and Euro­pean fishing ves­sels are get­ting pre­pa­red and con­flicts are to be fea­red. The stag­ge­red obser­ver keeps watching and won­de­ring.

Vic­tims of domestic vio­lence in Sval­bard poten­ti­al­ly in defen­celess posi­ti­on

Kri­se­sen­te­ret Trom­sø, an insti­tu­ti­on to help vic­tims of domestic vio­lence, has rai­sed an alar­ming deba­te. Accord­ing to an arti­cle publis­hed in NRK, vic­tims of domestic vio­lence may be in a far more hel­pless situa­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en than in main­land Nor­way.

Back­ground: the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty

The back­ground is rela­ted to the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, accord­ing to which citi­zens of all signa­to­ry coun­tries have free access to Sval­bard. As a result, ever­y­bo­dy can live and work the­re without visa and work per­mit restric­tions (a Schen­gen visa can be necessa­ry to get to Spits­ber­gen becau­se access is only avail­ab­le through the Schen­gen trea­ty area).

Hence, the Nor­we­gi­an “utlen­dingslo­ven” (for­eig­ner law) is not valid in Sval­bard, which regu­la­tes access and resi­dents of for­eig­ners in Nor­way. But this law also pro­vi­des sup­port to non-Nor­we­gi­an vic­tims of domestic vio­lence in Nor­way, for examp­le access to dedi­ca­ted insti­tu­ti­ons such as Kri­se­sen­te­ret Trom­sø (or else­whe­re) and to lawy­ers, to name some examp­les. This is not avail­ab­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, becau­se the law is not valid in Sval­bard. This can put for­eign women, who are finan­cial­ly depen­dent on their part­ner, in a very dif­fi­cult posi­ti­on: if they are not able to sup­port them­sel­ves finan­cial­ly, then retur­ning to their coun­try of ori­gin is likely to be the only solu­ti­on avail­ab­le. But the­se coun­tries do often not pro­vi­de much of a per­spec­ti­ve, espe­cial­ly for peop­le who have left years ago and who may now have child­ren who may not have much of a rela­ti­ons­hip their mother’s coun­try of ori­gin. As a result, such women may stay in a vio­lent rela­ti­ons­hip lon­ger than they might have done with more sup­port.

Longyearbyen

For most peop­le, Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a good place whe­re you can have a good and safe life.
But the­re are excep­ti­ons, and for them, life can be even more dif­fi­cult than it would be in main­land Nor­way.

A lawy­er who works with vic­tims of domestic vio­lence comments this as fol­lows: “It appears as if Sval­bard is Nor­we­gi­an when it suits us and sud­den­ly it is not Nor­we­gi­an when it does not fit us.”

Two poli­ce cases of domestic vio­lence sin­ce 2020

Two cases of domestic vio­lence have been inves­ti­ga­ted by the poli­ce sin­ce ear­ly 2020. Sys­sel­mann Kjers­tin Askholt points out that the poli­ce fol­lows the­se cases up just in the same way as on the main­land. She sees Nor­we­gi­ans who live without resi­dence per­mit in a for­eign coun­try in a rela­ti­ons­hip with a local in a simi­lar situa­ti­on and exp­lains that, for the vic­tim, the­se cases may always have other con­se­quen­ces than for a citi­zen of the respec­ti­ve coun­try.

Mayor Arild Olsen reco­gni­s­es the pro­blem and sees the need to inves­ti­ga­te the mat­ter on a poli­ti­cal level.

Han­ne Sten­vaag, lea­der of the kri­se­sen­te­ret (cri­sis cent­re) in Trom­sø, is afraid that the­re may be a high num­ber of unre­por­ted cases.

Parts of Nyby­en clo­sed becau­se of avalan­che risk

The wea­ther in Spits­ber­gen has lar­ge­ly been rather unfriend­ly for a while with a lot of wind, snow and com­pa­ra­tively mild tem­pe­ra­tures. The Eas­ter wee­kend was not as ide­al for long trips into the out­doors as many would have wan­ted. A group of ski expe­di­tio­ners who wan­ted to go “Spits­ber­gen på langs”, a deman­ding tour from the south cape to the north point of the main island, had to be picked up by heli­co­p­ter just days after the start.

Gruvefjellet above Nybyen: avalanche risk

Gru­ve­f­jel­let abo­ve Nyby­en (the buil­dings are part of Nyby­en).

Cur­r­ent­ly, the wea­ther fore­cast again inclu­des a lot of wind and snow for Lon­gye­ar­by­en and lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, and this invol­ves a high avalan­che risk. The offi­cial warning sys­tem

wie­der Wind und Schnee bereit. Daher gilt in Lon­gye­ar­by­en und gro­ßen Tei­len Sval­bards wie­der varsom.no is now on “red” (sta­ge 4 out of 5).

Lar­ge cor­ni­ces have built up at Gru­ve­fel­let next to Nyby­en, the upper part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­se cor­ni­ces may break off at any time and put buil­dings at risk. The Sys­sel­man­nen has con­clu­ded that the only way to keep ever­y­bo­dy safe is to evacua­te parts of Nyby­en until fur­ther noti­ce. This inclu­des the buil­dings on the east side of the road and the adja­cing slo­pe of Gru­ve­f­jel­let. Ever­y­bo­dy has to lea­ve from this area until 1800 today (Fri­day). The evacua­ti­on can only be lifted by the Sys­sel­man­nen, and it is not known when this will hap­pen.

Avalanche risk: evacuation  of Nybyen

The clo­sed area in and near Nyby­en.
Map © Nor­sk Polar­in­sti­tutt / Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard.

Avalan­che risk: parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en evacua­ted

The wea­ther fore­cast pre­dicts strong sou­the­as­ter­ly winds, remi­nis­cent of the situa­ti­on just befo­re and during the fatal avalan­che in Decem­ber 2015 during which 2 peop­le died in their homes.

Avalanche risk: evacuations in Longyearbyen

The red zone near Lia, the part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en next to the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen, may not be ent­e­red until from Satur­day 8 a.m. until fur­ther noti­ce from offi­cial side. The buil­dings shown in the red area were des­troy­ed by the cata­stro­phic 2015 avalan­che.
Map © Nor­sk Polar­in­sti­tutt / Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard.

The Sys­sel­man­nen has reac­ted and evacua­ted parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en that may be at risk. This con­cerns a cou­p­le of houses in Nyby­en on the east side of the road, near the slo­pe of the moun­tain, and the lower slo­pes of Suk­ker­top­pen next to Lia (the part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en that has the lovely old woo­den buil­dings with pit­ched roofs). This is whe­re houses were des­troy­ed during the avalan­che a few days befo­re Christ­mas 2015.

The are­as con­cer­ned must be evacua­ted until Satur­day morning 08:00 and they may not be ent­e­red until fur­ther noti­ce by the Sys­sel­man­nen. Peop­le can not arran­ge pri­va­te accom­mo­da­ti­on can con­ta­ct the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on. The­re are fewer locals, tou­rists and stu­dents in Lon­gye­ar­by­en now than in nor­mal times due to the coro­na cri­sis, so accom­mo­da­ti­on should gene­ral­ly be avail­ab­le.

Avalanche risk: evacuations in Longyearbyen

The red zone in and near Nyby­en in upper Lon­gye­ar­by­en is off limits as of Satur­day 8 a.m. and until fur­ther noti­ce from the Sys­sel­man­nen.
Map © Nor­sk Polar­in­sti­tutt / Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard.

The Sys­sel­man­nen reminds ever­y­bo­dy that the­re is a high avalan­che risk in the field. The Nor­we­gi­an avalan­che warning web­site Varsom.no cur­r­ent­ly indi­ca­tes risk level 3 (oran­ge) for Nor­dens­kiöld Land.

Sval­bard soon vac­ci­na­ted

The Nor­we­gi­an government has announ­ced to give Sval­bard prio­ri­ty in the natio­nal Covid 19 vac­ci­na­ti­on pro­gram­me. The main rea­son is that a local out­break would quick­ly put the emer­gen­cy ser­vices under high pres­su­re becau­se of the distance to the main­land of Nor­way. The local hos­pi­tal does only pro­vi­de basic medi­cal ser­vices, and Covid-19 pati­ents would have to be flown out to Trom­sø.

Corona-crisis: Longyearbyen will be vaccinated soon

Lon­gye­ar­by­en hos­pi­tal would not be able to hand­le a coro­na out­break, so the remo­te com­mu­ni­ty will soon be vac­ci­na­ted.

The idea is to vac­ci­na­te ever­y­bo­dy who is 45 or older as soon as pos­si­ble. This is announ­ced to start now in March. Until now, only elder­ly peop­le have been vac­ci­na­ted, accord­ing to Norway’s nati­on­wi­de vac­ci­na­ti­on prio­ri­ty plan.

The Arc­tic Wed­nes­day: second run!

For all rea­ders who under­stand some Ger­man: Bir­git Lutz and I will con­ti­nue our suc­cess­ful online seri­es of arc­tic pre­sen­ta­ti­ons “The arc­tic Wed­nes­day”, star­ting on 17 March.

Der arktische Mittwoch: 6 arktische Themenvorträge mit Rolf Stange und Birgit Lutz

The arc­tic Wed­nes­day: 6 arc­tic online pre­sen­ta­ti­ons.

Plea­se refer to the Ger­man ver­si­on of this arti­cle by cli­cking here or on the lan­guage icon on top of this page for more details 🙂

Return of the sun cele­bra­ted in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The return of the sun to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, sol­fest in Nor­we­gi­an, is tra­di­tio­nal­ly cele­bra­ted on 08 March, the day when the sun is direct­ly visi­ble from town after several mon­ths of polar night. This is the case at the stair­ca­se of the old hos­pi­tal, which does not exist any­mo­re (but a repli­ca of the stairs is the­re), near the church.

Usual­ly, the sol­fest comes with a who­le seri­es of cul­tu­ral events over several days, the sun cele­bra­ti­on week (sol­fest­u­ke). The cul­tu­ral part suf­fe­red obvious­ly hea­vi­ly from coro­na restric­tions.

Sun festival 2021, Longyearbyen

Sun fes­ti­val 2021, on 8 March in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Pho­to © Max Schwei­ger.

Max Schwei­ger is in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and kind­ly pro­vi­ded a cou­p­le of pho­tos of today’s cele­bra­ti­on.

The sun is actual­ly visi­ble from lower Lon­gye­ar­by­en, near the shore of Advent­fjord, but this part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, now known as Sjøs­kren­ten, did not exist when the tra­di­ti­on of the sun cele­bra­ti­on was star­ted.

Every year, a new emblem is made the sun fes­ti­val. It is cho­sen from drawings made in Longyearbyen’s kin­der­gar­tens. This year’s selec­tion is clear­ly very appro­pria­te!

Sun festival 2021 in Longyearbyen

This year’s emblem for the sun fes­ti­val. Pho­to © Max Schwei­ger.

With the sun cele­bra­ti­on, the long polar night is “offi­cial­ly” over in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The late win­ter with a lot of light is now the­re, fol­lo­wed by a short spring and then the sum­mer with the mid­ni­ght sun. A lot of light that fol­lows on a long, dark peri­od. May this very soon be the case also for the rest of the world!

Polar bear shot in Mohn­buk­ta, man inju­red

A man was inju­red and a polar bear shot and kil­led ear­lier today in Mohn­buk­ta on the east coast of Spits­ber­gen, accord­ing to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

To per­sons were on the fast ice in Mohn­buk­ta with snow mobi­les. Both were employees in the film pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny Jason Roberts Pro­duc­tions and on the ice to mea­su­re the thic­kness. As far as cur­r­ent­ly known, the men were not awa­re of the pre­sence of the bear until it atta­cked from behind. One man recei­ved inju­ries during the attack, the other one shot the bear.

Polar bear shot in Mohnbukta, Spitsbergen

Polar bear on the ice in Mohn­buk­ta (archi­ve image).

The Sys­sel­man­nen arri­ved soon on site by heli­co­p­ter with poli­ce and res­cue for­ces. The infu­red man was soon deli­ve­r­ed to the hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. His inju­ries are said to be minor.

Both per­sons appe­ar to be expe­ri­en­ced locals. The case is under inves­ti­ga­ti­on by the Sys­sel­man­nen. Polar bears are pro­tec­ted in Spits­ber­gen.

Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen to end in 2028

Coal is an ener­gy car­ri­er source of the past. This is also the case in Spits­ber­gen, whe­re the power sup­ply of most of the few remai­ning sett­le­ments is till based on coal. Work has been going on for more than just a while in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to replace today’s coal power plant with a more modern, more envi­ron­ment­al­ly friend­ly and more reli­able ener­gy sup­ply. The ques­ti­on as to which ener­gy source will be used, or which com­bi­na­ti­on of various ener­gy sources, remains yet to be ans­we­red, several opti­ons are still deba­ted. But the aim is to have a new ener­gy sup­ply up and run­ning wit­hin 5 years.

Expec­ting that the new solu­ti­on will not invol­ve coal, the Nor­we­gi­an mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni has deci­ded to put an end to coal mining in mine 7, the last Nor­we­gi­an coal mine in Spits­ber­gen that is still pro­du­cing coal, when the coal power plant is histo­ry, accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten. Hence, mining is expec­te to cea­se in mine 7 in 2028. Store Nor­ske then expects to use 2 years for a major clean-up.

Mine 7: end of coal mining in Spitsbergen in 2028

Mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en: end of Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen expec­ted in 2028.

Store Nor­ske expects growth and new jobs in busi­ness are­as such as new solu­ti­ons of ener­gy sup­ply, logistics, pro­per­ty and housing.

Sveagru­va, for deca­des Norway’s lar­gest coal mining sett­le­ment in Spits­ber­gen, is alrea­dy in an advan­ced sta­ge of a major clean-up pro­cess. The Rus­si­an in Bar­ents­burg may, for some time, be the only ones who run an acti­ve coal mine in Spits­ber­gen, but also here – coal mining won’t last fore­ver. The end of coal pro­duc­tion in Bar­ents­burg has been fore­cas­ted alrea­dy more than once, with mining com­ing to an end in years that are now alrea­dy histo­ry. But it appears fair to assu­me that Rus­si­an coal mining won’t con­ti­nue much bey­ond 2030, if at all.

Local tour ope­ra­tors: 65 % loss, sup­port to come soon

Local tour ope­ra­tors in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have to deal with los­ses of 65 % in average due to coro­na. For some, the last year has been a total loss, some com­pa­nies and indi­vi­du­als would be hap­py to have a remai­ning tur­no­ver of 35 %. Others have some boo­kings by tou­rists com­ing from main­land Nor­way, but also the­se don’t come in num­bers com­pa­ra­ble to pre­vious years. The­re is no inter­na­tio­nal tou­rism due to the cur­rent tra­vel restric­tions. It remains to be seen when things real­ly get bet­ter.

Longyearbyen tourism Corona

Win­ter tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen:
will lar­gey be a loss this year – again.

At least, local tour ope­ra­tors can now expect 40 mil­li­on kro­ner (3.9 mil­li­on Euro) as public sup­port sup­port from Oslo. It is too ear­ly to say if all com­pa­nies will sur­vi­ve the cur­rent cri­sis even con­si­de­ring this new finan­cial aid. The upco­m­ing win­ter sea­son, nor­mal­ly pea­king in March and April, will most­ly not hap­pen this year.

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