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Monthly Archives: June 2022 − News & Stories


Bird flu detec­ted in Spits­ber­gen

Bird flu, also known as avi­an flu or avi­an influ­en­za, has been detec­ted in Spits­ber­gen in June for the first time. It is the first evi­dence for this virus in the Arc­tic.

Sci­en­tists expec­ted the arri­val of the bird flu virus in Sval­bard now becau­se of a major recent out­break of the dise­a­se amonst Bar­na­cle geese in Eng­land and Scot­land. Birds from this popu­la­ti­on migra­te up to Sval­bard to breed the­re during the sum­mer. You can see Bar­na­cle geese and others, main­ly pink-foo­ted geese, in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en in lar­ge num­bers in the ear­ly sum­mer befo­re they spread to the brea­ding are­as.

Barnacle geese, Ny-Ålesund

Bar­na­cle geese are poten­ti­al car­ri­ers of the bird flu virus (here in Ny-Åle­sund).

The bird flu virus was now found in a dead glau­cous gull that was found near the har­bour in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, as NRK reports.

Bird flu is high­ly infec­tious and very dan­ge­rous for birds, both wild and domestic ones. Experts fear poten­ti­al­ly dis­astrous con­se­quen­ces for domestic bird stocks in main­land Nor­way and wild bird popu­la­ti­ons both the­re and in Sval­bard.

Report to the Sys­sel­mes­ter if you find a dead bird or an ali­ve one that shows stran­ge beha­viour, but do not touch or hand­le dead birds or bird drop­pings. The risk of an infec­tion for humans, howe­ver, is descri­bed as low.

Nor­we­gi­an government dis­pos­ses­ses for­eig­ners of local voting rights

After a long and con­tro­ver­si­al poli­ti­cal pro­cess, the Nor­we­gi­an government in Oslo has now made the decisi­on that non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en will lose the voting right (acti­ve and pas­si­ve) on a com­mu­ni­ty level. Only tho­se “for­eig­ners” (peop­le without Nor­we­gi­an pass­ports) who have lived at least 3 years in a main­land com­mu­ni­ty will be able to vote or to be elec­ted into the com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil (Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re).

This app­lies to appro­xi­mate­ly 700 inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re is cur­r­ent­ly one mem­ber of Lokals­ty­re who has a pass­port other than Nor­we­gi­an (Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den), accord­ing to NRK.

This had been a very con­tro­ver­si­al and, for some, emo­tio­nal deba­te which was alrea­dy sub­ject of several ear­lier con­tri­bu­ti­ons on this page; read the pre­vious arti­cle (click here) for more back­ground, e.g. on the histo­ry of local demo­cra­cy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

It is safe to assu­me that most non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens have not spent 3 years as a regis­tered inha­bi­tant of a Nor­we­gi­an main­land com­mu­ni­ty. Many locals who have spent a major part of their lives in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will not be allo­wed to vote during the next local elec­tions (in 2023) and they may not be elec­ted into Lokals­ty­re.

The recent govern­men­tal decisi­on frus­tra­tes many who are con­cer­ned; many feel like second-class citi­zens now, as Sval­bard­pos­ten reports.

Minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Emi­lie Enger Mehl gives the fol­lowing explana­to­ry state­ment (quo­ted from the press release of the Nor­we­gi­an government, link abo­ve, my own trans­la­ti­on): “The con­nec­tion to the main­land makes sure that tho­se who mana­ge the com­mu­ni­ty at any time have good know­ledge and a good under­stan­ding of Sval­bard poli­tics and the (poli­ti­cal) frame­work that is app­lied to Sval­bard … con­si­derable resour­ces are trans­fer­red every year from the main­land to sup­port public ser­vices and infra­st­ruc­tu­re. Inha­bi­tants with main­land con­nec­tion will often have con­tri­bu­t­ed to the­se finan­ces. The requi­re­ment for a main­land con­nec­tion is also to be seen in this light.”

Norwegian Longyearbyen and voting rights

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is beco­m­ing more Nor­we­gi­an. Exclu­si­on of non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants from local demo­cra­cy is a pri­ce that the Nor­we­gi­an government is appear­ent­ly wil­ling to pay.

Com­ment

So far so clear: tho­se who (poten­ti­al­ly) have paid are to deci­de; tho­se who have paid poten­ti­al­ly less (local taxes are low) and to not have the right pass­port are exclu­ded from poli­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on whe­re it real­ly mat­ters.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re is a com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil and no more than that. Lokalstyre’s decisi­ons con­cern local traf­fic, kin­der­gar­ten, school, other local infra­st­ruc­tu­re – just what a com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil gene­ral­ly does, and no more than that. Lokals­ty­re does not have any influ­ence in natio­nal legis­la­ti­on – bey­ond try­ing to be heard, which too often does not hap­pen, other­wi­se the decisi­on in ques­ti­on would not have hap­pen­ed as it did. Lokals­ty­re does not make decisi­ons con­cer­ning Sval­bard out­side the com­mu­ni­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

So one may ask what kind of pro­blem the Nor­we­gi­an government assu­mes to sol­ve. Or, same ques­ti­on in other words: what are they afraid of? So far, Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re is firm­ly in Nor­we­gi­an hands. The­re is cur­r­ent­ly exact­ly one local coun­cil mem­ber who is not Nor­we­gi­an, and that is Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den. Who is afraid of Oli­via? And even if, one future day, Danes and Swe­des, Ger­mans and Thai would make up a visi­ble pro­por­ti­on of Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re and thus have a say in mat­ters con­cer­ning local road buil­ding of kin­der­gar­ten – so what?

Last year, a local coun­cil mem­ber of Høy­re (“Right”) said some­thing like “This is about secu­ri­ty. Thus, we can not make any com­pro­mi­se.”

It would be inte­res­ting to know more about whe­re poli­ti­ci­ans from the quo­ted local coun­cil mem­ber up to Minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Emi­lie Enger Mehl see Nor­we­gi­an secu­ri­ty threa­tened.

Let’s just assu­me they would be able to give a con­vin­cing ans­wert to this ques­ti­on (noting that not­hing points to this actual­ly being the case): the cur­rent decisi­on is, at best, pre­ven­ti­ve. As men­tio­ned, the­re is cur­r­ent­ly exact­ly one local coun­cil mem­ber who is not Nor­we­gi­an, and not­hing points towards an incre­a­sing trend of inter­na­tio­nal diver­si­ty in Lokals­ty­re.

For this pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­re, the Nor­we­gi­an government is wil­ling to pay a high pri­ce – or rather, to let others pay the pri­ce: the exclu­si­on of a lar­ge group from local demo­cra­cy. Many of tho­se feel like second class citi­zens now.

Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­ci­ans usual­ly not let an oppor­tu­ni­ty pass unused to point out that Sval­bard and Lon­gye­ar­by­en are Nor­we­gi­an (and I haven’t heard anyo­ne ques­tio­ning this, with some excep­ti­ons of bizar­re claims made by Sovjet/Russian poli­ti­ci­ans, but that’s a total­ly dif­fe­rent issue and by no means rele­vent in a local demo­cra­cy con­text). But sud­den­ly, Lon­gye­ar­by­en is not Nor­we­gi­an enough to give tho­se who have been living the­re for years good know­ledge of the Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­cal frame­work for Sval­bard poli­cy? That is, in my opi­ni­on, bizar­re.

Jus­tiz­mi­nis­te­rin Mehl said (author’s trans­la­ti­on): “Nobo­dy is exclu­ded from the demo­cra­tic pro­cess, but you must have lived on the main­land for 3 years to be elec­ted into Lokals­ty­re.” (Sval­bard­pos­ten).

It is hard to say what is more worry­ing. That the government plain­ly igno­res most of the opi­ni­ons being rai­sed during the public hea­ring – the voices from Lon­gye­ar­by­en whe­re by far sin­ging the same song of demo­cra­cy and poli­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on.

Or that Mehl pre­ten­ds that nobo­dy is exclu­ded from the demo­cra­tic pro­cess while this is exact­ly what hap­pens, which is eit­her a con­cer­ning lack of know­ledge or plain­ly fal­se. The­re are very few non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en who have spent at least 3 years as regis­tered inha­bi­tants of a main­land com­mu­ni­ty. And the desi­re to do this has pro­bab­ly not grown for many whom the Nor­we­gi­an government has now given the fin­ger. This may be per­cei­ved as a strong descrip­ti­on of the recent decisi­on, but this is exact­ly how tho­se who are direct­ly con­cer­ned may well feel about it (so does this aut­hor, in any case).

Which other modern, demo­cra­tic, Euro­pean coun­try has retrei­ved lco­al voting rights from for­eign inha­bi­tants who used to have the­se rights befo­re, some for many years? This decisi­on appe­ras poli­ti­cal­ly dis­gus­ting, right-wing natio­na­list and xeno­pho­bic. With this decisi­on, the Nor­we­gi­an government has joi­ned a cir­cle of Euro­pean gover­nemnts whe­re, I am sure, they do not wish to see them­sel­ves.

MS Vir­go back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

MS Vir­go, which hit a rock in Fuglefjord, is back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. She is said to have done the pas­sa­ge under her own power, but accom­pa­nied by the coast­guard to assist if nee­ded.

Coast­guard divers made an attempt to repair the hull dama­ge tem­pora­ri­ly, but it is said that this did not work. Polar­sys­sel, the governor’s ves­sel, pum­ped fuel from Vir­go‘s dama­ged tank.

MS Virgo, Longyearbyen

MS Vir­go in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, today (Thurs­day) morning.

The­re is no fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on avail­ab­le at the moment, not­hing about the extent of dama­ge, the volu­me of die­sel that may have been lost in Fuglefjord and escaped into the envi­ron­ment or why and how exact­ly the groun­ding hap­pen­ed.

MS Vir­go hit ground in Fuglefjord

it, in princip­le, is a night­ma­re sce­n­a­rio: a crui­se ship hits a rock and the hull and a fuel tank are dama­ged.

We don’t know yet what exact­ly hap­pen­ed yes­ter­day morning in Fuglefjord in nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen and what the con­se­quen­ces will be. What we know is that the litt­le Swe­dish expe­di­ti­on crui­se ship MS Vir­go touched the bot­tom yes­ter­day (Tues­day, 14 June) near 10 a.m. The acci­dent hap­pen­ed pro­bab­ly on the pas­sa­ge into Fuglefjord from the north, bet­ween a group of small islets, sker­ries and rocks known as Fug­le­hol­ma­ne.

The pas­sa­ge is rou­ti­nely taken by small ships at least during clear con­di­ti­ons (wea­ther, ice) and the rou­te requi­res care­ful navi­ga­ti­on, but is usual­ly no pro­blem. The waters are well char­ted and the­re are several pos­si­ble rou­tes, depen­ding on ship size. Fuglefjord its­elf is lar­ge and deep (except a 7.5 meter shal­low in the ent­ran­ce, but even this is more than deep enough for a rela­tively small ves­sel shuch as the Vir­go). Only the inner­most part of the fjord, near the gla­cier, is unchar­ted.

Fugleholmane, Fuglefjord

Pas­sa­ge bet­ween the rocks and islets of Fug­le­hol­ma­ne while ent­e­ring Fuglefjord from the north.

No fur­ther details about yesterday’s acci­dent have been released by the Sys­sel­mes­ter at the time of wri­ting.

But it is known that the hull was dama­ged and the same goes for a fuel tank, invol­ving the risk of a fuel leaka­ge. MS Polar­sys­sel, the ser­vice ship of the Sys­sel­mes­ter (gover­nor), was on site wit­hin a few hours. Polar­sys­sel is equi­ped with fuel lea­king figh­t­ing equip­ment and works to pre­vent spills were star­ted up immedia­te­ly.

Nobo­dy was hurt. The­re were 13 pas­sen­gers and a crew of seven on board.

As all ships in most parts of Svalbard’s waters, MS Vir­go has mari­ne die­sel on board. Hea­vy and cru­de oil are not per­mit­ted on board any ship in the natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves, which altog­e­ther com­pri­se the lar­gest part of the archi­pe­la­go. Hea­vy, long-las­ting oil pol­lu­ti­on is gene­ral­ly cau­sed by cru­de or hea­vy oil, while mari­ne die­sel dis­sol­ves rela­tively quick­ly even in cold waters. The risk of a major, long-las­ting pol­lu­ti­on event is this low. A less hea­vy pol­lu­ti­on, las­ting for days or even weeks, can, howe­ver, not exclu­ded with the infor­ma­ti­on avail­ab­le and might be eco­lo­gi­cal­ly dis­astrous, con­si­de­ring the­re are several lar­ge bird colo­nies main­ly with litt­le auks on some of the neigh­bou­ring islands such as Fugle­son­gen and Ind­re and Ytre Nor­skøya.

Nofre­te­te and a cham­pa­gne glass. Lon­gye­ar­by­en snow­fiel­ds

A lot of the snow around Lon­gye­ar­by­en has alrea­dy disap­peared recent­ly. The warm days in late May, when the war­mest tem­pe­ra­tures of the mon­ths were mea­su­red that Lon­gye­ar­by­en had seen in 46 years with 12.9 degrees cen­tig­ra­de on 30 May, made the tur­no­ver from win­ter to sum­mer a very rapid affair this year, at least local­ly: it is actual­ly very nor­mal that the snow-melt in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en starts ear­lier and hap­pens fas­ter than else­whe­re. You may get an impres­si­on of full ear­ly sum­mer in Lon­gye­ar­by­en while the­re is still full arc­tic win­ter some­thing like 50 kilo­me­tres away to the north, east and south (and may­be even to the west, alt­hough this is less reli­able). In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, it may be dif­fi­cult to access the fuel sta­ti­on by snow mobi­le while you can enjoy the win­ter sea­son at its best north of Isfjord or around upper Advent­da­len – if you can still get the­re, that is.

Tho­se who know Lon­gye­ar­by­en well also know the snow­fiel­ds “Nofre­te­te” and “Cham­pa­gne glass”. When the snow goes, some snow­fiel­ds stay behind for qui­te some times, and some of them have pro­mi­nent shapes in a very simi­lar way year after year. The fol­lowing two are the most famous ones. Let’s start with Nofre­te­te:

Snowfield Nofretete, Adventfjord

Snow­field “Nofre­te­te” on the north side of Advent­fjord. You can’t see it from cen­tral Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The simi­la­ri­ty to the famous bust of the old Egypt beau­ty is striking, even though she gives me the impres­si­on of being in a bad mood here. But who isn’t, every once in a while.

The “Cham­pa­gne glass” is even more famous than Nofre­te­te, pro­bab­ly also becau­se you can see it easi­ly direct­ly from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is a snow­field of the shape of – guess what! – yes, a cham­pa­gne glass on Ope­raf­jel­let, east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Snowfield Champagne glass, Adventfjord

The snow­field “Cham­pa­gne glass”, not yet ent­i­re­ly free from the sur­roun­ding snow,
on Ope­raf­jel­let east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, late May 2022.

The “Cham­pa­gne glass” comes with a litt­le sto­ry that attracts public atten­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en year after year. The pro­ges­sing snow melt reli­ab­ly leads to the brea­king of the stem after the glass has got its per­fect shape – the cup its­elf being a bit less high and slim than with most real cham­pa­gne glas­ses. “Stet­ten går”, as the Nor­we­gi­an-spea­king locals say, “the stem goes”. The exact day then the stem “breaks” is the final one in a seri­es of events in natu­re that mark the annu­al tran­si­ti­on from win­ter to sum­mer (the first one being the arri­val of the snow bun­ting in April).

The stem usual­ly breaks in late July or ear­ly August. You can try your luck and place a bet with Sval­bard­pos­ten, the local news­pa­per, about your best gues­sing of the date. Honour and reco­gni­ti­on in case of suc­cess.

This year, it was Sarah Gerats who pro­ved her instincts and know­ledge about the local natu­re, deve­lo­ped through years of life in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and on boats in local waters. Sarah was not the only one who pre­dic­ted that the stem would go on 06th June, but she was the first one.

Snowfield Champagne glass, Adventfjord

The cham­pa­gne glass with bro­ken stem on 6th June, 2022.

Hence, this year’s day of the bro­ken stem is amongst the ear­liest of its kind in recor­ded histo­ry, due to the abo­ve-men­tio­ned unusual­ly warm days in late May.

Sarah Gerats

Sarah Gerats, win­ner of the 2022 cham­pa­gne glass con­test.
Here tog­e­ther with Mario Czok, then Cap­tain on Anti­gua, at Bear Island (2018).

Congra­tu­la­ti­ons, Sarah!

Kongsfjord & For­landsund – 04-05 June 2022

The attempt to sail down from the nor­thwest cor­ner to Kongsfjord was not exact­ly suc­cess­ful, due to a lack of wind. It wasn’t real­ly action sai­ling 🙂

But we still had some time to have a look on Blom­strand­hal­vøya inclu­ding two of the caves befo­re we went along­side in Ny-Åle­sund, whe­re we had a good look around the fol­lowing day.

In the after­noon, a desi­re to see wal­ru­ses came up, but we could cater for that in For­landsund.

Gal­le­ry – Kongsfjord & For­landsund – 04-05 June 2022

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

Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen – 03rd June 2022

We are back to the nor­thwest cor­ner of Spits­ber­gen. And the wea­ther is inde­ed still on our side. It is most­ly calm and sun­ny, just occa­sio­nal­ly a very light bree­ze and some clouds, which is a good thing.

We visi­ted litt­le auks and the migh­ty gla­cier in Fuglefjord, a place of stun­ning beau­ty. The­re was so much ice drif­ting in the fjord that the­re was no chan­ce of get­ting near the gla­cier. The beau­ti­ful impres­si­ons keep com­ing with high fre­quen­cy. So it was a good thing just to anchor in the late after­noon, let things calm down, and mar­vel at the beau­ty of the land­s­cape sur­roun­ding us.

Gal­le­ry – Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen – 03rd June 2022

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

Ice – Bis­ka­yar­hu­ken – 02nd June, 2022

The point of a trip so ear­ly in the arc­tic sum­mer – one of the points, at least – is of cour­se the idea that the sea ice is likely to be still some­whe­re near the coast. Of cour­se you need the wea­ther for it.

We had both. Ice and wea­ther. It could not have been more beau­ti­ful!

Gal­le­ry – Ice, Bis­ka­yar­hu­ken – 02nd June, 2022

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

And we even had time for a litt­le lan­ding at Bis­ka­yar­hu­ken later in the after­noon.

Nor­thwest-Spits­ber­gen – 01st June 2022

Time ist just fly­ing. The days are full of expe­ri­ence and beau­ty. The mon­th star­ted with no less than four polar bears in the bay whe­re we had inten­ded to go ashore. Well, chan­ge of plans! Ins­tead of our pro­jec­ted snow­shoe hike, we went crui­sing at the gla­cier Smee­ren­burg­breen.

Gal­le­ry – Nor­thwest-Spits­ber­gen – 01st June 2022

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

In Kob­befjord we had a look at the old arc­tic post­box. Someo­ne had appar­ent­ly emp­tied it sin­ce we had left post­cards the­re three years ago. I won­der if they have actual­ly arri­ved.

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