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Yearly Archives: 2023 − News & Stories


SV Noor­der­licht groun­ded in Nor­way, free again

Thurs­day ear­ly mor­ning, the sai­ling ship Noor­der­licht ran aground in Nor­way. The acci­dent site was at Rug­hol­men, north of Trond­heim. Nobo­dy was inju­red.

Sailing ship Noorderlicht

SV Noor­der­licht (to the left) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (2022).

The­re were 26 per­sons on board. 24 of them were soon evacua­ted by res­cue forces wit­hout any dra­ma or fur­ther dan­ger. Cap­tain and engi­neer remain­ed on board with res­cue forces on stand­by. After a while, they could get the ship off the rocks with towing assis­tance. SV Noor­der­licht was then able to reach a port under her own steam. Dama­ge appears accor­din­gly litt­le or none-exis­tent. This was also con­firm­ed by a spea­k­er of the Nor­we­gi­an poli­ce, as NRK repor­ted.

An offi­ci­al hull inspec­tion will be car­ri­ed out befo­re Noor­der­licht is allo­wed to sail again.

Per­so­nal com­ment

I have many hap­py memo­ries from voy­a­ges with SV Noor­der­licht, both in Spits­ber­gen and main­land Nor­way. I wish all peo­p­le con­cer­ned – pas­sen­gers, crew and com­pa­ny – all the best, and safe and hap­py sai­ling again soon!

News from the north

For various reasons, I had to lea­ve the news sec­tion on this web­site alo­ne for a cou­ple of days, but (almost) not­hing is get­ting lost here … so, what has hap­pen­ed up the­re recent­ly?

Actual­ly, quite a lot:

Sun fes­ti­val

The sun is back! Fol­lo­wing good tra­di­ti­on, the return of the sun was cele­bra­ted in Lon­gye­ar­by­en with the key event on 08 March. That is the day when the sun is actual­ly visi­ble again abo­ve the moun­ta­ins from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. From the old parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, that is, whe­re the tra­di­ti­on was born; you can actual­ly see the sun a cou­ple of days ear­lier from the newer parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en clo­se to the fjord. And alre­a­dy in late Febru­ary from sui­ta­ble places in the sur­roun­dings of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, in ele­va­ted posi­ti­ons or in Hior­th­hamn (on the north side of Advent­fjord). As long as you have a clear view to the south.

Tal­king about a free view: it all doesn’t real­ly help when the sun is hiding behind clouds. This was the case this time on 08 March. Nevert­hel­ess, locals and tou­rists cele­bra­ted the occa­si­on with a series of cul­tu­ral events that come with the return of the sun.

sun festival Longyearbyen

sun fes­ti­val with clear sky (archi­ve image; this time, it was over­cast).

Emer­gen­cy res­cue ser­vices in demand: acci­dents and evacua­tions

The busy win­ter sea­son is in full swing, and the emer­gen­cy res­cue ser­vices are in demand. On Satur­day, a ski hiker was res­cued during stor­my wea­ther from Rabot­breen. Due to serious­ly bad wea­ther, SAR forces had to abort a first attempt to find the man on Fri­day, but a short wea­ther win­dow allo­wed for a suc­cessful heli­c­op­ter flight on Satur­day. In the mean­ti­me, the man, a Polish citi­zen, has tal­ked to various media. He was on the way to New­ton­top­pen, to prepa­re for a later expe­di­ti­on in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. With seve­ral expe­di­ti­ons in arc­tic parts of Cana­da and Sibe­ria, the man has con­sidera­ble rele­vant expe­ri­ence.

This was only one of seve­ral recent examp­les. During the busy win­ter sea­son, it is not a very rare event that peo­p­le – tou­rists or locals – have to be evacua­ted from the field after snow mobi­le (or other) acci­dents.

The local sec­tion of the Red Cross remin­ded ever­y­bo­dy recent­ly that also pro­fes­sio­nal SAR forces have to deal with wea­ther and other dan­gers of natu­re and may not alway be able to prompt­ly help peo­p­le in need, espe­ci­al­ly under con­di­ti­ons when things are likely to hap­pen.

Snow mobile group, Adventdalen

Snow mobi­le group out on tour in Advent­da­len.

One of the more curious events of this kind in a wider sen­se hap­pen­ed on Tues­day in Hior­th­hamn, when a snow mobi­le caught fire. No peo­p­le were har­med. The exact reason is not publi­cal­ly known in this case, but it may for exam­p­le hap­pen when someone dri­ves with the hand bra­ke put on. Not unhe­ard of.

While I was wri­ting the­se lines on Wed­nes­day, a serious snow mobi­le acci­dent hap­pen­ed that sad­ly took one person’s life. Read more about this case here in a dedi­ca­ted pos­ting (I kept the artic­le that you are rea­ding right now unpu­blished for ano­ther day becau­se it felt inap­pro­pria­te to publish it, whe­re the news of a fatal acci­dent are just one of many bits and pie­ces of infor­ma­ti­on).

By now, the­re is some more infor­ma­ti­on available. The decea­sed per­son was in his 60s and tra­vel­ling alo­ne. He was the last one in a gui­ded group of snow mobi­le tou­rists when he got off the track and fell down a steep, 10-12 met­res deep ravi­ne. First aid mea­su­res were appli­ed but when the SAR heli­c­op­ter arri­ved, saving the man’s life was bey­ond reach despi­te of all efforts.

Small ships under pres­su­re, big ones coming big time

Big­ger crui­se ships may be in for a record-brea­king sum­mer. A spec­trum from 100+ pas­sen­ger expe­di­ti­on ships to lar­ge crui­se ships car­ry­ing seve­ral thousand pas­sen­gers may bring up to 75,000 tou­rists to Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the upco­ming sum­mer. This will, for exam­p­le through port fees, bring a lot of money to Longyearbyen’s public cash balan­ce and pri­va­te com­pa­nies will also bene­fit, but others watch this deve­lo­p­ment with mixed fee­lings. The­re are many locals who feel that the place is over­c­row­ded when lar­ge crui­se ships are in port, and the hos­pi­tal has alre­a­dy expres­sed worries regar­ding health ser­vice capa­ci­ties.

Ships, Longyearbyentdalen

Tou­rists tra­vel to Sval­bard on a wide ran­ge of ships from small sai­ling boats to lar­ge crui­se ships.

At the same time, tour ope­ra­tors focus­sing on small ships are worried about the future of their acti­vi­ties which is threa­ten­ed by serious rest­ric­tions announ­ced by the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. They have been mat­ter of con­tro­ver­si­al public dis­cus­sion alre­a­dy for some time. The­re are no recent news, and we have to wait and see what the result of the pro­cess will look like. On Wed­nes­day, repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local eco­no­my tra­vel­led to Oslo to pre­sent their view­point and express their worries about poli­tics that, as they feel, seem to have lost the con­nec­tion to the local rea­li­ty.

It seems as if the mis­si­on of the Lon­gye­ar­by­en repre­sen­ta­ti­ves had at least some suc­cess: seve­ral mem­bers of the Nor­we­gi­an par­la­ment have sin­ce exp­pres­sed doubts about the legal pro­po­sals and sug­gested to put the pro­cess on hold until the new Sval­bard­mel­ding is out in 2024. The Sval­bard­mel­ding is a govern­ment decla­ra­ti­on that defi­nes a frame for future Sval­bard poli­tics for a cou­ple of years. The last one came out in 2016, and it did not say any­thing about clo­sing lar­ge parts of the archi­pe­la­go for most peo­p­le and other stuff that is going on right now.

Click here to read more about the plans of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. Accor­ding to cur­rent know­ledge, we expect chan­ges to enter force in 2024.

At the same time, Nor­we­gi­an oil and gas busi­nesses cele­bra­te a record-brea­king year, due to high pri­ces on the world mar­kets which are at least in part the con­se­quence of the Rus­si­an war against the Ukrai­ne, and new dis­co­veries in the North Sea, accor­ding to NRK.

Few will deny that cer­tain fields of regu­la­ti­on con­cer­ning tou­rism need impro­ve­ment, for exam­p­le a gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me which has been dis­cus­sed for years, a limit to the num­ber of expe­di­ti­on ships (100 or maxi­mum 200 pas­sen­gers capa­ci­ty), a size limit for lar­ger ones and a gene­ral ban on cru­de oil in arc­tic waters, while the­re is no fac­tu­al reason to dis­pos­sess real­ly small ships of the pos­si­bi­li­ty to land pas­sen­gers almost any­whe­re on Svalbard’s coast­li­ne as has been the case so far. But con­side­ring the poli­ti­cal pres­su­re on tou­rism in Sval­bard on one side and the fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment of oil and gas, one may expe­ri­ence Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal poli­tics as rather ambi­va­lent.

Envi­ron­men­tal toxins at Hotell­ne­set

Pol­lu­ti­on pro­blems of cer­tain are­as at Hotell­ne­set, near the air­port, with cer­tain long-lived envi­ron­men­tal toxins (PFAS) thought to cau­se can­cer have been known for years. The sub­s­tances go back to fire­fight­ing sub­s­tances used on a fire­fight­ing exer­cise area. Jørn Dyb­dahl, form­er­ly owner of a riding cent­re at Hotell­ne­set, con­siders his can­cer to be rela­ted to the local pol­lu­ti­on. The hand­ling of the mat­ter by rele­vant aut­ho­ri­ties has been a mat­ter of cri­ti­cism for a long time.

Hotellneset

Hotell­ne­set near Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port has a long histo­ry of indus­tri­al use and cor­re­spon­ding pol­lu­ti­on.

Natur­vern­for­bun­det in Troms, an eco­lo­gy group form north Nor­way, have recent­ly added to the cri­ti­cism: while 100 mg are the the­shold value for PFAS in main­land Nor­way and envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ties are actual­ly deba­ting the reduc­tion of the allo­wed maxi­mum value to 2 mg, the Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ty (mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat) has sug­gested 150 mg to be an accep­ta­ble maxi­mum value for Hotell­ne­set. Natur­vern­for­bund Troms fears that envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards are lowe­red to save cos­ts of the clean-up which has to be car­ri­ed out. Accep­ting hig­her thres­hold values would inde­ed be a stran­ge step espe­ci­al­ly in an arc­tic eco­sys­tem which due to the low tem­pe­ra­tures is espe­ci­al­ly sen­si­ti­ve to che­mi­cal influen­ces.

Fatal snow mobi­le acci­dent

One per­son died in a fatal snow mobi­le acci­dent today (Wed­nes­day, 15 March), accor­ding to the Sys­sel­mes­ter. The acci­dent hap­pen­ed on a fre­quent­ly used snow mobi­le rou­te bet­ween Kapp Lai­la (Coles­buk­ta) and Barents­burg, about two kilo­me­t­res west of Kapp Lai­la.

Kapp Laila-Barentsburg snow mobile route

The snow mobi­le rou­te bet­ween Kapp Lai­la and Barents­burg.

The exact posi­ti­on of the acci­dent is not yet publi­cal­ly known, but the appro­xi­ma­te posi­ti­on sug­gests that the acci­dent hap­pen­ed in the vici­ni­ty of a stee­p­ly incis­ed val­ley. The rou­te leads around the val­ley, but this can be chal­len­ging if, for exam­p­le, the sur­face is icy. The man, a US citi­zen, was part of a gui­ded tour.

The­re is curr­ent­ly no more infor­ma­ti­on available.

Gui­de­book “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard”: new edi­ti­on available!

The new edi­ti­on of the gui­de­book “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard” (Eng­lish) is now available!

The new edi­ti­on is a com­pre­hen­si­ve update. I made updates to the infor­ma­ti­on in all chap­ters to bring the book up to date, up to Janu­ary 2023. This means that the­re is quite a lot of new infor­ma­ti­on, sin­ce the pre­vious edi­ti­on came out in March 2018, exact­ly five years ago, also due to the covid break.

guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

The new edi­ti­on of the gui­de­book “Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard” is available now.
Loo­king good, isn’t it? 🙂

I have also re-work­ed the who­le lay­out. Now the images are not orga­nis­ed in blocks any­mo­re, but they are spread in the text, direct­ly in the right place whe­re­ver they make sen­se, and that will make this book easier and more fun to use!

Click here for more infor­ma­ti­on or to place an order.

By the way, to ans­wer a ques­ti­on that I get quite fre­quent­ly: we are curr­ent­ly inves­ti­ga­ting opti­ons to make the book available as an ebook. That is work in pro­cess, but I hope that we get a result in the not too far future.

Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault: 15th anni­ver­sa­ry

The famous “Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault” cele­bra­tes its 15th anni­ver­sa­ry the­se days. It was ope­ned in Febru­ary 2008 – that was one of the very first news on this site – and the anni­ver­sa­ry was now cele­bra­ted on Sun­day in Sval­bard­mu­se­um.

Svalbard global seed vault

Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault: 15th anni­ver­sa­ry cele­bra­ti­ons the­se days.
This is the tun­nel that leads to the actu­al vault in the moun­tain behind Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port.

The anni­ver­sa­ry has attrac­ted inter­na­tio­nal media atten­ti­on. Secre­ta­ry of agri­cul­tu­re San­dra Borch should have joi­n­ed the cele­bra­ti­ons on Sun­day, but she was not able to board her flight from Trom­sø to Lon­gye­ar­by­en becau­se she had for­got­ten her pass­port.

During the initi­al years of its exis­tence, the Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault (SGSV) had to deal with various tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that requi­red expen­si­ve tech­ni­cal upgrades. By now, appro­xi­m­ate­ly 1.2 mil­li­on seed samples are stored in the vault. The­re is enough space for up to 4.5 mil­li­on samples. All of the­se are from crop plants around the world, the Seed Vault does not store seeds of natu­ral plants.

Svalbard global seed vault

One of three cham­bers of the Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault.

The Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault is not acces­si­ble to the public. The ope­ra­tor orga­ni­sa­ti­on has announ­ced a vir­tu­al tour to make the Seed Vault acces­si­ble at least online.

Some­thing that has been avai­la­bel on this web­site alre­a­dy for years 🙂 Click here for a vir­tu­al tour of the famous Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault.

Housing mar­ket still tight in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The housing mar­ket is still dif­fi­cult in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This was less appa­rent during the years with coro­na rest­ric­tions, but it is get­ting more of a pro­blem again curr­ent­ly as the important win­ter tou­rist sea­son starts.

Accom­mo­da­ti­on has always had a hea­vy pri­ce tag in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but the situa­ti­on beca­me real­ly dif­fi­cult after a num­ber of hou­ses was lost during a snow ava­lan­che in Decem­ber 2015, which also took the live of two peo­p­le, inclu­ding one child. A num­ber of hou­ses with more than 100 units were aban­do­ned after ava­lan­che risk assess­ments. Ava­lan­che fen­ces and walls have sin­ce been built to secu­re remai­ning are­as, but cer­tain addres­ses still have to expect tem­po­ra­ry evacua­ti­on in dan­ge­rous wea­ther situa­tions, as recent­ly in Nyby­en.

avalanche wall, Longyearbyen

Ava­lan­che wall near the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen next to a resi­den­ti­al area
in cen­tral loca­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

On top of that, the fire in Sep­tem­ber des­troy­ed seve­ral hou­ses with a num­ber of flats. Nobo­dy was inju­red, at least, alt­hough it was a nar­row escape for some, who lost all their belon­gings in the fire.

Fire in Longyearbyen

Seve­ral hou­ses in cen­tral Lon­gye­ar­by­en were lost during a fire in Sep­tem­ber 2022.

New dwel­ling hou­ses are under con­s­truc­tion in seve­ral loca­ti­ons in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, main­ly at Elves­let­ta, bet­ween the cent­re and the river Lon­gye­a­rel­va. This may give visi­tors the impres­si­on that Lon­gye­ar­by­en is gro­wing, but it is actual­ly still a race to catch up with the los­ses.

Construction site Longyearbyen

Con­s­truc­tion site in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: the place appears to grow,
but it is actual­ly a mat­ter of cat­ching up with the los­ses.

The pro­blem was less appa­rent in 2020 and 2021 due to coro­na, but now the win­ter sea­son is under full steam. Just as the fishing indus­try on the main­land, the tou­rism indus­try depends on sea­so­nal staff to run the busi­ness. But now the indus­try is facing big­ger pro­blems than ever befo­re to find housing for their work force. The­re is no detail­ed data, but NRK assu­mes that the­re is a lack of housing for a three-digit num­ber of peo­p­le for sea­so­nal jobs in tou­rism.

Main housing space owners in Lon­gye­ar­by­en include the sta­te-owned com­pa­nies Stats­bygg and Store Nor­ske. Statsbygg’s main task is to sup­p­ly employees of the public sec­tors with accom­mo­da­ti­on, and they don’t con­sider it their job to help the tou­rism indus­try. Store Nor­ske says they are wil­ling to help, but this would obvious­ly requi­re available capa­ci­ties.

Con­s­truc­tion is going on, and many are hoping for an easier housing mar­ket in the future. But this will take years – and tho­se out for housing will have to pay hea­vy pri­ces if they find any­thing at all.

Buil­dings in Nyby­en acces­si­ble again

The Sys­sel­mes­ter has can­cel­led the evacua­ti­on of the buil­dings on the east side of the road in Nyby­en. The area behind buil­dings remains, howe­ver, clo­sed due to the ava­lan­che risk.

Avalanche risk in Nybyen and at Vei 300 in Longyearbyen

At least the buil­dings are acces­si­ble again in Longyearbyen’s upper part Nyby­en. Way 300 (vei 300) is curr­ent­ly clo­sed becau­se of the ava­lan­che risk.

The Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal insti­tu­te pre­dicts more wind and snow­fall and still a signi­fi­cant ava­lan­che risk (oran­ge level), but the focus of poten­ti­al ava­lan­che acti­vi­ty has moved to the other side in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: Vei 300 clo­se to Pla­tå­ber­get is now clo­sed from Sver­drup­by­en via Huset to the cos­sing clo­se to the old muse­um.

Ava­lan­che risk: parts of Nyby­en evacua­ted

Parts of Nyby­en, the upper part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, were evacua­ted today becau­se of a risk of ava­lan­ches. The part of Nyby­en east of the road, the side towards the moun­tain Gru­vef­jel­let, may not be ente­red. This con­cerns both the buil­dings and the area around them. This was deci­ded today by the Sys­sel­mes­ter after con­sul­ta­ti­ons with rele­vant tech­ni­cal aut­ho­ri­ties.

Avalanche risk, evacuation of Nybyen in Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­ens upper part Nyby­en: the buil­dings and area east of the road (right side of the pic­tu­re) are curr­ent­ly evacua­ted and may not be ente­red.

Some of the buil­dings are used as stu­dent homes. Accom­mo­da­ti­on for the­se stu­dents was found in Elves­let­ta, a part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en near the cent­re.

It is curr­ent­ly not known how long the evacua­ti­on will be in force. The Sys­sel­mes­ter wro­te that the ava­lan­che risk will be eva­lua­ted con­ti­nuous­ly and updated infor­ma­ti­on will fol­low until tomor­row (Tues­day) 1300.

The Nor­we­gi­an wea­ther ser­vice pre­dicts wind and snow for the next days.

Fur­ther excep­ti­ons for dri­ving licen­ses

The dri­ving licen­se ques­ti­on was one of last year’s major issues in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: in Novem­ber, it was sud­den­ly found out that dri­ving licen­ses from a num­ber of count­ries are not valid in Spits­ber­gen. The reason invol­ves a lot of juri­di­cal small print: dri­ving licen­ses need to meet the requi­re­ments of the Vien­na Con­ven­ti­on on Road Traf­fic to be valid in Spits­ber­gen. This con­ven­ti­on was rati­fied by 85 count­ries – this lea­ves many which are not part of that club, such as the United Sta­tes, Cana­da and Indo­ne­sia, to men­ti­on just a few.

The­re are many citi­zens of the­se count­ries living in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, and many of them need to dri­ve as part of their work or ever­y­day life. The thought of not having a valid dri­ving licen­se has sho­cked many of them. It is said that the­re are cases whe­re peo­p­le have alre­a­dy lost their jobs and home. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, many employees get their accom­mo­da­ti­on sup­pli­ed by their employ­er. If you lose your job, then you lose your accom­mo­da­ti­on at the same time.

In Decem­ber, the Sys­sel­mes­ter announ­ced excep­ti­ons for cer­tain types of dri­ving licen­ses after nego­tia­ti­ons with rele­vant Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties. This was a reli­ef for many, but not for all who are con­cer­ned.

Car and driving license issue, Longyearbyen

The amount of road traf­fic in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is remar­kab­le, and so are some of the cars that you can see the­re.

Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties now went a step fur­ther, as the Sys­sel­mes­ter announ­ced today: now the­re are excep­ti­ons for dri­ving licen­ses from count­ries that have rati­fied that Gen­e­va Con­ven­ti­on of 1949 on road traf­fic. This includes a num­ber of count­ries that are not part of the Vien­na con­ven­ti­on, such as the USA and Cana­da. This may be hel­pful for citi­zens of the­se count­ries who live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but also for tou­rists who want to rent a car or dri­ve snow mobi­le.

The excep­ti­on is valid through 2023. During this year, Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties want to work with the issue to find a pro­per long-term solu­ti­on.

New rules in the making

New and stric­ter regu­la­ti­ons have been in the legis­la­ti­ve pro­cess now for years. The­se rules will not only, but main­ly con­cern tou­rism. A prop­sal for a new set of rules was made public and went through a public hea­ring in ear­ly 2022. The num­ber of sub­mis­si­ons in the public hea­ring – 92 – was unu­sual­ly high, and also bey­ond that, the­re was and is an ongo­ing, rather con­tro­ver­si­al public dis­cus­sion about the new regu­la­ti­ons.

Now the pro­cess had taken a major step. The respon­si­ble tech­ni­cal aut­ho­ri­ty, Mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet (the Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal envi­ron­men­tal agen­cy) has gone through the pro­po­sal in the light of the input from the public hea­ring. This took more than half a year. The result? Prac­ti­cal­ly non-exis­tent – the Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat has pas­sed the pro­po­sal on, back to the govern­ment, almost wit­hout chan­ges, as for exam­p­le NRK wro­te.

The most important chan­ges include:

  • Landings in the major pro­tec­ted are­as will be rest­ric­ted to 43 sel­ec­ted sites. The lar­ge remai­ning part of the­se huge are­as will then in prac­ti­ce be clo­sed for the public. Are­as out­side the natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves are not con­cer­ned. Also the natio­nal parks in Isfjord shall remain acces­si­ble in the same way as today.
  • Also on the west coast, pas­sen­ger (crui­se) ships are limi­t­ed to a maxi­mum of 200 pas­sen­gers on board, as alre­a­dy in the natu­re reser­ves which com­pri­se the who­le eas­tern part of Sval­bard. This would, in prac­ti­ce, mean that lar­ge, inter­na­tio­nal crui­se ships can not visit Spits­ber­gen any­mo­re. Until now, Spits­ber­gen has been a regu­lar desti­na­ti­on for some of the­se ships, alt­hough rest­ric­ted to Isfjord (main­ly Lon­gye­ar­by­en) in prac­ti­ce due to legis­la­ti­on that is alre­a­dy in force, main­ly the ban on hea­vy oils in the natio­nal parks.
  • A gene­ral mini­mum distance of 500 met­res to polar bears. Mini­mum distances are also pro­po­sed for wal­ru­ses: 300 m for boats from res­t­ing places (ori­gi­nal “lig­ge­plas­ser”) and 150 on land.
  • Fur­ther regu­la­ti­ons include, among­st others, a ban on brea­king fjord ice (this is alre­a­dy for­bidden), a ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les) on fjord ice (also not­hing real­ly new) and a ban on dro­nes in pro­tec­ted are­as (so far alre­a­dy regu­la­ted, but not gene­ral­ly for­bidden).
Neue Regeln für Tourismus auf Spitzbergen: Wanderung, Nordaustland - künftig verboten

Hiking in a remo­te part of Nord­aus­t­land:
not pos­si­ble any­mo­re when the new rules are in force.

This means that the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sal will now be pas­sed on to the govern­ment for fur­ther legis­la­ti­ve pro­ces­sing almost wit­hout chan­ces. Espe­ci­al­ly the idea to limit the quan­ti­ty of tou­rism, espe­ci­al­ly the num­ber of ships, rather than their ran­ge, was in prac­ti­ce igno­red. A repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat told Sval­bard­pos­ten actual­ly that the­re are “seve­ral pos­si­bi­li­ties to sol­ve this”, refer­ring to “con­ces­si­ons”, which would effec­tively redu­ce the num­ber of ships. But this is still not part of the pro­po­sal, as the eva­lua­ti­on of such pos­si­bi­li­ties “was not part of the man­da­te”, accor­ding to the repre­sen­ta­ti­ve inter­view­ed by Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Now the who­le packa­ge will go back to the govern­ment for fur­ther con­sul­ta­ti­ons until it is tur­ned into a law that can be pas­sed by the par­lia­ment and then tur­ned into valid law by the signa­tu­re of the Nor­we­gi­an king. This may still take some time, and the­re may still be chan­ges. But the pro­ba­bi­li­ty that the final law will look very simi­lar to the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sal has now stron­gly increased.

The ori­gi­nal sche­du­le included 01 Janu­ary 2023 as the day when the new laws should enter force, some­thing that has obvious­ly not hap­pen­ed yet. The­re are tho­se insi­ders in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who are cer­tain that the new rules will not effec­tively come befo­re 2024, but the­re is no real­ly relia­ble infor­ma­ti­on publi­cal­ly available.

Com­ment

Good to hear: the­re would have been other – bet­ter! – ways of deal­ing with the key pro­blems. Too bad they were just not part of the job of Mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet as orde­red by the envi­ron­men­tal minis­try. Nice to hear that they knew this. It would have been even nicer if they had done any­thing with it. This oppor­tu­ni­ty pas­sed unu­sed, at least as far as Mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet is con­cer­ned, a play­er on the lower levels of the legis­la­ti­ve pro­cess, but a key play­er. It would pro­ba­b­ly have been nai­ve to expect some­thing dif­fe­rent, con­side­ring how other legis­la­ti­ve pro­ces­ses went in recent years, the most pro­mi­nent one pro­ba­b­ly being the voting rights issue. The Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat didn’t have any­thing to do with that one, but it indi­ca­tes a remar­kab­le con­sis­ten­cy of Nor­we­gi­an law-giving in recent years in this regard.

Most peo­p­le will agree that the grown and still gro­wing num­ber of crui­se ships is a mat­ter of con­cern. The­re were about 80 pas­sen­ger ships in Sval­bard in 2022, and that num­ber is expec­ted to grow unless some­thing hap­pens. A focus of the growth is on ships with a capa­ci­ty bet­ween 100 and 200 pas­sen­gers: small enough to sail below the inten­ded limit of 200 pas­sen­gers (inten­ded on the west coast, alre­a­dy in force in the east, to be pre­cise), but lar­ge enough to lea­ve more of a local foot­print, for exam­p­le in shape of ero­si­on, than the real­ly small ships, most of which car­ry 12-30 pas­sen­gers.

One may ask: if the num­ber of ships is the main pro­blem, why not do any­thing with the num­ber of ships? A per­mit sys­tem could effec­tively limit – and redu­ce – the num­ber of ships to a sus­tainable level. But this is not the plan. Not part of the job, sor­ry. Too bad.

On top of the­se con­cerns comes the impact of cli­ma­te chan­ge on arc­tic natu­re, as no serious voice can deny. It is gre­at to hear that poli­ti­ci­ans in Oslo are con­cer­ned by cli­ma­te chan­ge. Even bet­ter if they want to do some­thing about it. Plea­se, go ahead – today, not tomor­row! It is not my inten­ti­on to pre­tend that Nor­way is not doing any­thing about cli­ma­te chan­ge. But as a coun­try that has been making fabu­lous money with oil and gas for deca­des, Norway’s cre­di­bi­li­ty within the fight against cli­ma­te chan­ge is limi­t­ed, to put it mild­ly. Yes, Nor­we­gi­an pro­duc­tion of oil and gas reacts to demand in other Euro­pean count­ries, who have not done their home­work with regards to making their ener­gy mar­kets gree­ner and rather bought cheap Rus­si­an oil and gas which needs to be repla­ced now on short noti­ce. That is all well unders­tood. Still, Norway’s cre­di­bi­li­ty is limi­t­ed and intro­du­cing mea­su­res that won’t make a dif­fe­rence for the fight against cli­ma­te chan­ge, but will hit an indus­try hard – obvious­ly an indus­try not con­side­red rele­vant on a natio­nal level in Nor­way, and part­ly even an inter­na­tio­nal indus­try – will not make any posi­ti­ve con­tri­bu­ti­on. The pri­ce is paid by others, but who cares as long as it looks good in some way, almost if they’d actual­ly real­ly do some­thing. In this last sen­tence, empha­sise almost, not real­ly.

New Year’s Eve and polar night

This website’s start into the new year was as grim as one could only ima­gi­ne. Now this second pos­ting is also dedi­ca­ted to dark affairs, but in a com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent sen­se that includes the very spe­cial aes­the­tics of the polar night. Here are some impres­si­ons from the dar­kest time of the year in the high north, whe­re New Year’s Eve cele­bra­ti­ons fol­low a pat­tern quite simi­lar to what most rea­ders will know from whe­re­ver – in the end, almost ever­y­whe­re in the world the old year is seen off and the new one wel­co­med with some fire­works. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the­re is a public one and very litt­le pri­va­te ban­ging and shoo­ting. Actual­ly, the­re are two, a fami­ly-fri­end­ly one at 19.00 hours and then of cour­se one at mid­night.

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

Arjen Drost, 1976-2023

Many knew Arjen Drost from count­less trips in the Arc­tic and Ant­ar­c­tic over many years. Just a few weeks ago, he was in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, enjoy­ing the wild­life and ever­y­thing else he loved so much.

On Wed­nes­day (Janu­ary 04, 2023), he final­ly lost a fight that he had been fight­ing for years.

Arjen Drost (1976-2023), with emperor penguin, Ross Sea

Arjen Drost, as he lived and loved his life, in the Ross Sea (2017).

High­ly respec­ted as a col­le­ague.

High­ly estee­med as a fri­end.

Much loved by many as the human being that he was.

Now Arjen is dancing with the nor­t­hern lights.

Arjen Drost (1976-2023), Vernadsky

Arjen Drost, the “lar­ger than life man”, in the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la.
Good times long gone by (Ver­nad­sky Base, 2005).

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