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Monthly Archives: October 2022 − News & Stories

Rus­sia and Nor­way agree on fishery quo­tas for the Barents Sea

Wes­tern count­ries have redu­ced their con­nec­tions to Rus­sia to a mini­mum, but the­re are still a few open chan­nels in use and both sides are still able to make agree­ments that many will think of as sur­pri­sing: Nor­way and Rus­sia have sea­led an agree­ment on fishery quo­tas for the Barents Sea and the Nor­we­gi­an Sea, at the Barents­ob­ser­ver reports.

Russian fishing vessel, Barents Sea

Rus­si­an fishing ves­sel in the Barents Sea.

The Nor­we­gi­an-Rus­si­an Joint Fishery Com­mis­si­on has been in exis­tence sin­ce 1976. It sets over­all quo­tas for eco­no­mic­al­ly important spe­ci­es such as cod, had­dock, cape­lin and hali­but and it defi­nes the share that the fishing fleets of the two count­ries get. The indi­vi­du­al share is usual­ly near 50 % of the total quo­ta.

The quo­ta for cod was redu­ced now for two times in a row by 20 %.

Nor­way and Rus­sia also agreed to con­ti­nue their coope­ra­ti­on within the sci­en­ti­fic moni­to­ring of fish stocks and rela­ted admi­nis­tra­ti­on.

As a con­se­quence of Russia’s war against the Ukrai­ne, Nor­way has clo­sed most ports for Rus­si­an fishing ves­sels. Only Trom­so, Båts­fjord and Kir­kenes remain acces­si­ble for Rus­si­an ships, which are regu­lar­ly sub­ject to minu­te con­trols in the­se ports. Rus­sia has announ­ced to ter­mi­na­te the coope­ra­ti­on with Nor­way in case the govern­ment in Oslo deci­des on fur­ther rest­ric­tions. On the other side, Nor­we­gi­an fisher­men com­plain about fre­quent clo­sings of lar­ge are­as in the Rus­si­an sec­tor of the­se waters due to mili­ta­ry exer­ci­s­es. This often hap­pens on short noti­ce, which trou­bles the fishi­ung fleet.

Rus­si­an espio­na­ge in Nor­way inclu­ding Sval­bard

Russia’s hybrid war against the west has star­ted to hit Nor­way, inclu­ding the country’s arc­tic islands of Sval­bard. Dro­nes of unknown ori­gin have in recent weeks been seen fly­ing near important infra­struc­tu­re inclu­ding tech­no­lo­gy of the oil and gas indus­try. In some cases, this has included dro­nes fly­ing seve­ral thousand met­res high, well bey­ond the ran­ge of small con­su­mer-type dro­nes that are used for exam­p­le by ama­teur pho­to­graph­ers. Today (Tues­day, 25 Octo­ber) a man was arres­ted in Trom­sø, as NRK repor­ted. The man is suspec­ted of espio­na­ge under fal­se iden­ti­ty for a Rus­si­an intel­li­gence ser­vice.

Drone Spitsbergen

Dro­nes can be used for a wide ran­ge of pur­po­ses, from inno­cent pho­to­gra­phy through sci­en­ti­fic work, SAR and poli­ce ope­ra­ti­ons up to espio­na­ge, mili­ta­ry ope­ra­ti­ons and bomb ter­ror. The pho­to shows a public demons­tra­ti­on of dro­nes used by the Sys­sel­mes­ter of Sval­bard for admin­stra­ti­ve pur­po­ses and SAR and poli­ce ope­ra­ti­ons.

Ano­ther man was arres­ted becau­se of ille­gal dro­ne flights in Sval­bard. Accor­ding to Barents­ob­ser­ver, the man has con­nec­tions to Putin’s envi­ron­ment. He is suspec­ted of having made ille­gal dro­ne pho­tos that are curr­ent­ly under poli­ce inves­ti­ga­ti­on. The­re are seve­ral no fly zones in Sval­bard, such as the 5 km safe­ty zones sur­roun­ding the air­ports. Addi­tio­nal­ly, Nor­way does not allow Rus­si­an citi­zens to fly dro­nes any­whe­re in Nor­we­gi­an airspace as a reac­tion to the Rus­si­an war in the Ukrai­ne. A lawy­er of the suspec­ted man has indi­ca­ted to pos­si­bly chall­enge this ban becau­se of the Sval­bard Treaty’s requi­re­ment of equal tre­at­ment, but if such a move would be suc­cessful in court is an open ques­ti­on at best.

Such Rus­si­an acti­vi­ties are likely inten­ded to crea­te fee­lings of uncer­tain­ty, con­fu­si­on and fear in other count­ries.

Mine 7: coal mining until 2025

Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in mine 7 in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en will be con­tin­ued until 2025, as the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK) explai­ned in a press release. The reason is the chan­ged geo­po­li­ti­cal situa­ti­on and its impli­ca­ti­ons for glo­bal ener­gy mar­kets.

Mine 7

Mine 7 is loca­ted on a moun­tain in Advent­da­len.

Ear­lier, 2023 was set as the last year of Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen. One main reason to main­tain coal pro­duc­tion is, so far, the sup­p­ly for the local coal power plant, but the com­mu­ni­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en aims at fin­ding a new power solu­ti­on and has not rene­wed the con­tract with the mining com­pa­ny bey­ond 2023.

But the demand for coal on the inter­na­tio­nal mar­kets is high and so are the pri­ces. Hence, SNSK could secu­re good con­tracts until 2025. For many years, the Cla­ri­ant group has been the main cus­to­mer for Nor­we­gi­an coal from Spits­ber­gen, and will remain so until 2025.

In 2021 – befo­re the Rus­si­an war against the Ukrai­ne star­ted, SNSK increased its tur­no­ver to 93 mil­li­on Nor­we­gi­an kro­ner, com­pared to 48 mil­li­on kro­ner in 2020 – wit­hout chan­ges of the annu­al pro­duc­tion.

The­re are curr­ent­ly bet­ween 40 and 45 peo­p­le working in mine 7. SNSK plans to increase the num­ber of employees in mine 7 to 52, with an annu­al pro­duc­tion of 125,000 tons.

Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol excluded from Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd

The local tou­rism asso­cia­ti­on Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd has excluded Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol from its mem­bers. This was deci­ded today (12 Octo­ber) during a board mee­ting.

Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol is a com­pa­ny owned by the Rus­si­an sta­te. The Trust owns and runs Barents­burg and all acti­vi­ties the­re, inclu­ding tou­rism.

Trust Arcticugol

Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol, here in Pyra­mi­den: excluded from Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd and Visit Sval­bard.

One con­se­quence is that the offe­rings of Goarc­ti­ca, the Trust’s daugh­ter com­pa­ny for tou­rims, are not available any­mo­re on Visit Sval­bard, an important boo­king plat­form for local tour ope­ra­tors.

The reason is the Rus­si­an war of aggres­si­on in and against the Ukrai­ne. Chair­man Ron­ny Strøm­nes poin­ted out that it was not pos­si­ble any­mo­re to remain pas­si­ve, con­side­ring the Rus­si­an inva­si­on and seve­re vio­la­ti­ons of public inter­na­tio­nal law and human rights. Strøm­nes empha­si­zed that today’s decis­i­on is direc­ted against the Rus­si­an govern­ment and not against the peo­p­le in Barents­burg. He expres­sed hope that the future deve­lo­p­ment will make nor­mal rela­ti­onships pos­si­ble again, inclu­ding a rene­wed mem­ber­ship of Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol in Sval­bard Rei­se­livs­råd.

Goarc­ti­ca, the Trust’s tou­rism branch, published a video on social media show­ing how the lights are being tur­ned off in various loca­ti­ons in Barents­burg.

Rus­sia, Nor­way, Sval­bard and deep sea cable

One could almost laugh if it wasn’t actual­ly so serious and sad, and with such a dra­ma­tic geo­po­li­ti­cal back­ground: the­re is, on one side, a small coun­try that more or less regu­lar­ly sends a coast­guard or navy ship to remo­te parts of its waters to show pre­sence and to pat­rol the­se waters.

And on the other hand, the­re is a huge coun­try in the neigh­bour­hood, that has been pro­vo­king the who­le regi­on and many count­ries bey­ond that with tools within mili­ta­ry and other are­as, inclu­ding inter­net trolls, cyber attacks and so on and so forth, up to sabo­ta­ge of public infra­struc­tu­re.

The big coun­try obvious­ly thinks it has all the right of the world to do all this, or they just pre­tend it must have been someone else.

At the same time, the same big coun­try claims that the navy pre­sence of the small coun­try is an inac­cep­ta­ble pro­vo­ka­ti­on and a breach of important inter­na­tio­nal trea­ties.

This is, of cour­se, a very much sim­pli­fied and, to some degree, pole­mic sum­ma­ry of the cur­rent events. But just the fact that it seems safe to assu­me that all rea­ders will know which count­ries this is about is tale-tel­ling.

Coastguard, Svalbard

Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard ship in Sval­bard waters.

So, what hap­pen­ed now? Recent­ly, Rus­sia accu­sed Nor­way once again to have brea­ched the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty (often refer­red to as the Sval­bard Trea­ty) with their mili­ta­ry pre­sence in Sval­bard. It is the regu­lar pre­sence of Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard ships and occa­siona­ly a fri­ga­te in Sval­bard waters that alle­gedly irri­ta­tes Rus­sia. With this back­ground, it would be an idea to have a look at what the abo­ve-men­tio­ned trea­ty acc­tual­ly says, but on the other hand, who in Moscow cares about what is actual­ly writ­ten in a trea­ty? But just in case someone else­whe­re is inte­res­ted, this is the rele­vant Artic­le 9 of the trea­ty: “… Nor­way under­ta­kes not to crea­te nor to allow the estab­lish­ment of any naval base in the ter­ri­to­ries spe­ci­fied in Artic­le 1 and not to con­s­truct any for­ti­fi­ca­ti­on in the said ter­ri­to­ries, which may never be used for war­li­ke pur­po­ses”.

That is actual­ly pret­ty clear and straight­for­ward. And so are any con­clu­si­ons one might draw from the text. Nor­way doesn’t do any­thing that is in con­flict with arc­tic­le 9. Full stop. End of this part of the sto­ry. The rest is just pro­vo­ka­ti­on.

Ano­ther sto­ry is that of the deep sea cables. This is, if at all, then only at a very quick, first, super­fi­ci­al glan­ce inde­pen­dent from the first sto­ry. The­re are cables that con­nect Lon­gye­ar­by­en to main­land Nor­way, to pro­vi­de fast and relia­ble – that is the idea, at least – com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on for ever­y­thing from pho­ne­calls and ever­y­day inter­net use to satel­li­te data from SvalSat, the satel­li­te anten­na field near Lon­gye­ar­by­en which is of gre­at importance for many inter­na­tio­nal users inclu­ding orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as ESA and NASA and others. One of the­se cables – the­re are two, for safe­ty reasons – was dama­ged in Janu­ary (click here to read more about that). Soon it was estab­lished that the dama­ge was done by humans and not by natu­ral pro­ces­ses.

Recent­ly, the move­ments of a cer­tain Rus­si­an fish traw­ler were deba­ted in media such as NRK. A ship known by the name Mel­kart-5 crossed the posi­ti­on abo­ve the cables in the area of the dama­ge more than 100 times within a few days. Bey­ond that, the­re is an impres­si­ve list of move­ments of this ship and its ten­der near places such as Nor­we­gi­an oil and gas fields, pipe­lines and a bridge near Kir­kenes that is regu­lar­ly used during Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry exer­ci­s­es. In addi­ti­on, the­re are long peri­ods, whe­re no signal of the ship’s AIS was recei­ved any­whe­re at all.

Russian fishing vessels, Svalbard

Rus­si­an fishing ves­sels han­ding over car­go in Sval­bard waters.

The­se are the facts. Any­thing bey­ond this is spe­cu­la­ti­on, con­side­ring cur­rent public know­ledge.

Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the Sys­sel­mes­ter of Sval­bard have expres­sed reg­ret that legis­la­ti­on to pro­tect sea flo­or infra­struc­tu­re dates back to the stone age of the­se instal­la­ti­ons and does not pro­vi­de useful legal tools today.

The Spits­ber­gen dou­ble calen­der 2023 is available, with Bear Island and Jan May­en

The brand new Spits­ber­gen dou­ble calen­der 2023 is available! “Dou­ble calen­dar” means that the 12 calen­der sheets are used on both sides, and addi­tio­nal­ly to the twel­ve beau­tiful Spits­ber­gen pho­tos you get ano­ther twel­ve calen­der pages which are dedi­ca­ted to Bear Island an Jan May­en (six sheets for each one of them). As always, my new Spits­ber­gen dou­ble calen­der has a com­ple­te­ly new sel­ec­tion of pho­to­graphs and it comes in two sizes, A3 (lar­ger) and A5 (smal­ler). Click here for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on and orde­ring.

P.S. save money by buy­ing seve­ral copies: if you order two or more, then the pri­ce per copy is lower. Christ­mas is on the way, and the­re is always someone’s bir­th­day coming up 🙂

Frost: queen wit­hout land or a cri­mi­nal polar bear?

As if an ani­mal such as a polar bear could be a cri­mi­nal. But the­re are tho­se in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who say that Frost is a cri­mi­nal polar bear.

Accor­ding to polar bear sci­en­tist Jon Aars, “Frost” is a fema­le polar bear, age almost 17 years, cap­tu­red and mark­ed by the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te for the first time in 2009 in Wij­defjord and known to sci­en­tists as N23992. In later years, Frost got cubs a num­ber of times: twins in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – the rapid series indi­ca­ted that she must have lost her off­spring at least the first two times – and again twins in 2015 and 2017 and a sin­gle fema­le cub both in 2020 and 2022. Frost is a well-known polar bear for sci­en­tists, who have caught and mark­ed her repea­ted­ly.

Polar bear and hut in Adventfjord

Polar bear and hut in Advent­fjord.
It is not known if this polar bear actual­ly is Frost.

Unfort­u­na­te­ly, Frost and her siblings have many times had cont­act to sett­le­ments, huts and humans, some­ti­mes with tra­gic con­se­quen­ces. In 2014, one of her twins from 2013 died in Bil­lefjord under cir­cum­s­tances not ful­ly reve­a­led but in clo­se tem­po­ral con­nec­tion to a sci­en­ti­fic anaes­the­tiza­ti­on. The other one of the­se two unfort­u­na­te twins was shot after it had been in a camp in Tem­pel­fjord in 2015, whe­re one per­son recei­ved minor inju­ries. The sad cli­max was, howe­ver, rea­ched when one of Frost’s des­cen­dants kil­led cam­ping place mana­ger Johan Jaco­bus „Job“ Koot­te in his tent on the cam­ping place in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on 28 August, 2020. The polar bear was shot.

Frost got her popu­lar name in the docu­men­ta­ry “Queen wit­hout land” made by the Nor­we­gi­an film maker Asge­ir Hel­ge­stad.

Polar bear family, Billefjord

Polar bear fami­ly in Bil­lefjord, Sep­tem­ber 2021.
It is unli­kely that this is frost, becau­se she got a sin­gle cub in 2020.

Frost appears to spend most of her time in Isfjord, with occa­sio­nal visits to inner Wij­defjord. She has appeared many times in the vici­ni­ty of the sett­le­ments, Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Pyra­mi­den, and occa­sio­nal­ly pro­ba­b­ly also within them. And she seems to have got used to brea­king into huts and tras­hing them in search for food, as hap­pen­ed recent­ly to the hut of Gre­en­dog, a com­mer­cial dogyard in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The Sys­sel­mes­ter (govern­ment representative/police) usual­ly tri­es to sca­re polar bears away with fla­re guns, heli­c­op­ters of snow mobi­les. If this doesn’t work, anaes­the­tiza­ti­on and a flight to a remo­te place within Sval­bard are among­st the remai­ning opti­ons. But this has alre­a­dy been done with Frost, only to see her coming back a while later. More robust, but non-lethal deter­ring methods such as rub­ber bul­lets or pep­per spray or a “polar bear pri­son” as in Chur­chill, whe­re bears are kept for a while with only water and no food to teach them that get­ting too clo­se to sett­le­ments and humans is not a good thing, are appar­ent­ly not in the arse­nal of Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties.

Which means that a dead­ly rif­le shot soon comes into con­side­ra­ti­on. This was now pro­po­sed for Frost by Longyearbyen’s mayor, Arild Olsen, who said that Frost has beco­me a dan­ger to the public. But such a decis­i­on can not be made by Longyearbyen’s mayor. Only the Sys­sel­mes­ter, curr­ent­ly Lars Fau­se, has the power to deci­de on this. Fau­se, howe­ver, said that the law does not per­mit the pre­ven­ti­ve shoo­ting of a bear. Ins­tead, it allows this final step only in case of dan­ger to human life; in excep­tio­nal cases also to pro­tect major mate­ri­al values.

But Fau­se said he alre­a­dy made up is mind what to do when a polar bear comes clo­se to, for exam­p­le, the way to school of Longyearbyen’s child­ren.


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