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Yearly Archives: 2021 − News & Stories


With SV Anti­gua to the ice in Spits­ber­gen … or not

Sun­day, 30 May 2021, ear­ly after­noon – about 30 arc­tic tra­vel­lers would now board SV Anti­gua in the port of Lon­gye­ar­by­en and meet the crew and each other.

Not so today, for reasons that are not a secret. The trip does not hap­pen for the second time in a row, just as our lon­ger voya­ge in late June/July.

Nobo­dy will ever know what we are now miss­ing. That is the beau­ty of the­se trips: every trip is like the first one (well, almost), and even tho­se who have been around for some time in Spits­ber­gen don’t know what exact­ly will hap­pen. Any trip will bring expe­ri­en­ces that will sur­pri­se ever­y­bo­dy. You can never know whe­re you will end up, what the wea­ther will be like and whe­re you hap­pen to see the various sorts of wild­life.

Antigua, ice edge

With Anti­gua at the ice edge in Smee­ren­burg­fjord, ear­ly June 2019.

It is not­hing we could catch up with later. Next year will be a new year, also 2022 will be only 12 months long and it will bring wha­te­ver it will bring, regard­less of what we may have missed in 2021.

Just for fun, we can do what we always do befo­re any trip and have a look at the ice chart and wea­ther fore­cast. As you can see, the north coast of Spits­ber­gen is locked in behind den­se drift ice. In Storfjord, on the sou­the­ast side of Spits­ber­gen, the­re are, in con­trast, some wide fields of more open drift ice. It would have been an inte­res­t­ing idea to set cour­se for south and sou­the­ast Spits­ber­gen rather than to the north, whe­re you curr­ent­ly have open water and the sud­den­ly meet with an impene­tra­ble ice edge. Spitsbergen’s sou­thern fjords are beau­tiful and the ice in the sou­the­ast is temp­ting. It is ama­zing to be on a sai­ling ship and have ice floes in all direc­tions around you.

Spitzbergen Eiskarte

Ice chart of Sval­bard. I’d love to see that on loca­ti­on
(Ice chart © Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te).

The wea­ther is, of cour­se, ano­ther important fac­tor. It would not have been a full week of blue ski­es and bright suns­hi­ne, but a week of nor­mal arc­tic late spring/early sum­mer wea­ther, with a bit of ever­y­thing from blue to grey ski­es and any­thing that comes with it. The fore­cast is any­thing but relia­ble. If you want to know what it’s like in Smee­ren­burg­fjord or Horn­sund on Wed­nes­day, then you have to be in Smee­ren­burg­fjord or Horn­sund on Wed­nes­day. As simp­le as that.

Spitsbergen weather forecast

Wea­ther fore­cast for Horn­sund. The­se fore­casts are any­thing but relia­ble, but nevert­hel­ess an important plan­ning tool (© yr.no).

Sad­ly, we will not find out. About 40 peo­p­le (inclu­ding crew and gui­des) will miss an expe­ri­ence of a life­time. Plus, the­re is the eco­no­mic­al aspect for the ship owner, the Tall­ship Com­pa­ny, the tour ope­ra­tor, die Geo­gra­phi­sche Rei­se­ge­sell­schaft, and tho­se who are working on the ship. I hope they (this includes me) get well through this peri­od and towards bet­ter times.

We’ve still got some hope for the trips later this sum­mer. If you want to tra­vel any­way, and cer­tain­ly if you want to tra­vel on a small ship in a remo­te area: make sure, if you can, to get that vac­ci­ne in time. And then: fin­gers crossed.

Nor­way untigh­tens ent­ry requi­re­ments – IMPORTANT UPDATE

!!! In a later release, the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has poin­ted out that the untigh­ten­ed tra­vel rest­ric­tions as descri­bed below app­ly only to Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens. Details will fol­low later today in a new artic­le on this page.

The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has untigh­ten­ed the strict ent­ry requi­re­ments for tra­vel­lers to Nor­way. This comes into force today (Thurs­day, 27 May), accor­ding to an offi­ci­al press release.

In very short words, until yes­ter­day the sys­tem for ent­ry into Nor­way has been for months: “who are you and what do you want”, with the result that ent­ry was pos­si­ble or not depen­ding on natio­na­li­ty and tra­vel pur­po­se. And “not pos­si­ble” was usual­ly the ans­wer for non Nor­we­gi­an tra­vel­lers, unless they had an accept­ed reason such as a visit to clo­se rela­ti­ves, busi­ness etc.

From now on, the ques­ti­on is again: “whe­re do you come from”.

Ent­ry not based on “who are you and what do you want”, but “whe­re do you come from”

Tra­vel­lers from the Schen­gen trea­ty area as well as the UK may now enter Nor­way again pro­vi­ded coro­na infec­tion figu­res in their area of ori­gin meet cer­tain requi­re­ments. In the best case, the obli­ga­ti­on to spend some time in a qua­ran­ti­ne hotel may even be omit­ted: in the­se cases, tra­vel­lers are allo­wed to spend qua­ran­ti­ne time at home or ano­ther sui­ta­ble place of their choice. This appli­es to tra­vel­lers from Euro­pean count­ries (Schen­gen area and UK) with a coro­na inci­dence of less than 150 new infec­tions per 100,000 inha­bi­tants in the last 2 weeks (! the figu­res usual­ly com­mu­ni­ca­ted in most count­ries are based on one week), as long as the rate of posi­ti­ve tests is maxi­mum 4 %. So it is important to keep a good eye on data, which may obvious­ly chan­ge on rela­tively short noti­ce.

The­re is no dif­fe­ren­tia­ti­on bet­ween neces­sa­ry and unneces­sa­ry tra­ves any­mo­re.

Airport Oslo Gardermoen: Norway untightens entry requirements

Air­port Oslo Gar­de­r­moen: may beco­me a bit more lively again in the near future.

Many still have to do some time in a qua­ran­ti­ne hotel

The fol­lo­wing per­sons will need to spend some time in qua­ran­ti­ne in an appro­ved hotel. It still is a bit com­pli­ca­ted when it comes to the details, but it appli­es to most tra­vel­lers that they will have to spend at least 7 days in a qua­ran­ti­ne hotel befo­re they can get tes­ted out. Ever­y­bo­dy is obli­ged to spend 7 days in qua­ran­ti­ne, but the ques­ti­on if this has to be done in an appro­ved hotel near Oslo Gar­de­r­moen (the air­port) or in ano­ther place of one’s own choice may make a huge dif­fe­rence for many tra­vel­lers.

  • Tra­vel­lers from count­ries out­side the Schen­gen area or the UK still have to spend 7 days in a qua­ran­ti­ne hotel.
  • Tra­vel­lers from the Schen­gen area or the UK also have to spend time in a qua­ran­ti­ne hotel if the coro­na inci­dence in their regi­on of ori­gin exceeds the values descri­bed abo­ve modera­te­ly. The­se per­sons have the chan­ce to con­ti­nue their qua­ran­ti­ne at ano­ther sui­ta­ble place of their own choice after a mini­mum of 3 days and a nega­ti­ve test. The qua­ran­ti­ne ends after a mini­mum of 7 days and a nega­ti­ve test.
  • What about tra­vel­lers from the Schen­gen area or the UK with a coro­na inci­dence that exceeds the values descri­bed abo­ve dra­sti­cal­ly? The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has not yet deci­ded on the details, but the­se tra­vel­lers will have to spend at least 7 days in a qua­ran­ti­ne hotel befo­re they can be tes­ted in order to poten­ti­al­ly lea­ve from qua­ran­ti­ne.
  • Pro­per Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties may give dis­pen­sa­ti­on from the obli­ga­ti­on to qua­ran­ti­ne. Such dis­pen­sa­ti­on will, howe­ver, only be given in spe­cial cases and this needs to be done befo­re ente­ring the coun­try.

The door has ope­ned – a litt­le bit

As a bot­tom line, Nor­way has ope­ned the door again a litt­le bit after months of ent­ry rest­ric­tions which were among­st the toug­hest in the wes­tern world. We are still far away from free tra­vel­ling as known from times befo­re coro­na, but tra­vel­ling for tou­rists from Euro­pean count­ries is at least not some­thing com­ple­te­ly unthinkable any­mo­re. It is not yet known when and how the regu­la­ti­ons now in force will be untigh­ten­ed fur­ther. Tech­ni­cal aut­ho­ri­ties have sug­gested 3 days in qua­ran­ti­ne also for ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted peo­p­le, but regar­ding this, no decis­i­on has been made as of now.

Ent­ry for vac­ci­na­ted and reco­ver­ed peo­p­le

Decis­i­ons are yet to be made, but ever­y­thing points to more free­dom, pos­si­bly up to free ent­ry, for peo­p­le who are vac­ci­na­ted or who have reco­ver­ed from a coro­na infec­tion. Nor­way will join the Euro­pean sys­tem of a digi­tal vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te, which needs to be in place befo­re we may see such faci­li­ta­ti­ons. Accor­ding to Nor­we­gi­an news (e.g. NRK Dags­re­vy­en, 26.5), pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for such a cer­ti­fi­ca­te are well advan­ced in Nor­way and the sys­tem may be ope­ra­ting at some point in June.

And Spits­ber­gen?

A nega­ti­ve coro­na test is still requi­red to tra­vel to Spits­ber­gen and not­hing has been said about when this will be omit­ted.

Antigua, Spitsbergen

SV Anti­gua in Spits­ber­gen, with a touch of eary win­ter. It is curr­ent­ly impos­si­ble to know for sure if Anti­gua and other ships will be able to ope­ra­te in Spits­ber­gen in the late sea­son, but the­re is still some hope.

It is also not know if oppor­tu­ni­ties to ope­ra­te “coas­tal crui­ses” will come up this sea­son. Months ago, the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has announ­ced to come back to this until the end of May, so the­re may soon be new infor­ma­ti­on rele­vant to tho­se who have plans for ship-based tra­vels.

New page: Trøn­der­gru­va – the oldest coal mine near Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Let’s take ano­ther vir­tu­al tour – it was time to play with some new pan­ora­ma images and to crea­te a new page. Join me on a litt­le moun­tain walk on Blom­sterd­als­høg­da, a ridge on the north side of Pla­tå­berg, just behind the air­port. This is a com­pa­ra­tively easy walk, but it does not only have some flowers (as the name sug­gests) – I fidd­led a bit with my came­ra to get some good flower shots with the focus stack­ing tech­ni­que, and you can see a result on the new page.

Blomsterdalshøgda: Trøndergruva

Screen­shot with a part of one of seve­ral pan­ora­mas on Blom­sterd­als­høg­da. Click here to see the new page with the real pan­ora­mas, some pic­tures and the sto­ry of the oldest coal mine near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

But the main thing here on Blom­sterd­als­høg­da is “Trøn­der­gru­va”, the oldest coal mine in the Lon­gye­ar­by­en area and the start­ing point of a deve­lo­p­ment that gave us Lon­gye­ar­by­en as we know it today 🙂 just click here to join me on a litt­le tour on Blom­sterd­als­høg­da and to Trøn­der­gru­va.

Coro­na aid for Lon­gye­ar­by­en com­pa­nies: some are dis­cri­mi­na­ted

“Sval­bard­pak­ke 2” is the second Nor­we­gi­an packa­ge of coro­na back­ing for com­pa­nies in Lon­gye­ar­by­en that have suf­fe­r­ed eco­no­mic­al­ly from the pan­de­mic. The packa­ge includes 40 mil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an crowns (4 mil­li­on Euro) and it was brought on the way by the Nor­we­gi­an par­lia­ment on 23 Febru­ary becau­se many local com­pa­nies, espe­ci­al­ly tour ope­ra­tors, were suf­fe­ring from an acu­te liqui­di­ty crunch. But the allo­ca­ti­on of the funds reve­als a two-class socie­ty with dis­cri­mi­na­ti­on of some com­pa­nies who are “not Nor­we­gi­an enough”.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re, the com­mu­ni­ty admi­nis­tra­ti­on, sta­ted in a press release on 09 March (this author’s trans­la­ti­on): “Mayor Arild Olsen men­ti­ons that the admi­nis­tra­ti­on will empha­sise cri­te­ria that sup­port gene­ral Nor­we­gi­an Sval­bard poli­tics. This will obvious­ly include good working con­di­ti­on, but also the affi­lia­ti­on of the com­pa­ny. For exam­p­le that the respon­si­ble com­pa­nies are 100 % in Nor­we­gi­an owner­ship and that the public limi­t­ed com­pa­nies are at least 34 % owned by Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens and pay taxes in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Alter­na­tively, com­pa­nies are included that have been acti­ve in Sval­bard for at least five years.”

This was just a press release and not a legal­ly bin­ding text. Later, the mini­mum peri­od of local acti­vi­ty was increased from five years up to ten for tho­se tho­se com­pa­nies that are not in Nor­we­gi­an owner­ship as descri­bed. This is now caus­ing dif­fi­cul­ties for seve­ral com­pa­nies.

To pre­vent any misun­derstan­dings: this is in any case exclu­si­ve­ly about Nor­we­gi­an com­pa­nies that are regis­tered in the Nor­we­gi­an Brøn­nøy­sund regist­re and that are based and acti­ve in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, and not about com­pa­nies from else­whe­re.

Corona aids: discrimination of companies  in Longyearbyen

The Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty empha­si­zes the equal tre­at­ment regard­less of natio­na­li­ty, but some­ti­mes, some are more equal than others (Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal day, 17 May, in Lon­gye­ar­by­en)

But acc­cor­ding to the cur­rent hand­ling of the recent packa­ge of coro­na aids, the natio­na­li­ty of the owners is to play a decisi­ve rule. This includes cases whe­re non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens have foun­ded a com­pa­ny in Lon­gye­ar­by­en years ago, who live and work in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, crea­te local jobs and pay local taxes, al accor­ding to local regu­la­ti­ons. It is not about pre­ven­ting abu­se and fraud, but about exclu­ding com­pa­nies owned, part­ly or ful­ly, by non-Nor­we­gi­ans.

It does not sur­pri­se that some who are con­cer­ned feel dis­cri­mi­na­ted. Mar­cel Schütz has been acti­ve with his com­pa­ny Spitz­ber­gen Rei­sen in her pre­sent shape sin­ce 2016 after having star­ted with the pre­ce­des­sor in 2012, as he told Sval­bard­pos­ten. He has inves­ted sub­stan­ti­al­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, among­st others in local accom­mo­da­ti­on of his cli­ents, crea­ted seve­ral per­ma­nent plus seve­ral sea­so­nal jobs and pays local taxes. Not being included becau­se of natio­na­li­ty when tax money is retur­ned to com­pa­nies in need does doubt­less not crea­te good fee­lings, after having con­tri­bu­ted to the deve­lo­p­ment of the local eco­no­my for years.

Five or six out of 76 com­pa­nies that are regis­tered in Visit Sval­bard may be excluded becau­se of the owner­ship regu­la­ti­ons. Schütz demands the rele­vant para­graph to be revi­sed and ide­al­ly to be ful­ly remo­ved.

Mayor Olsen said that Sval­bard, in con­trast to main­land Nor­way, is not part of the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area and thus more free to make local decis­i­ons, and that para­graph 5 is meant to sup­port Nor­we­gi­an Sval­bard poli­tics, which gene­ral­ly aim at a Nor­we­gi­an focus of local acti­vi­ties.

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 🙂

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