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Home → May, 2024

Monthly Archives: May 2024 − News & Stories

New govern­men­tal Sval­bard-decla­ra­ti­on

The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment has pre­sen­ted a new “Sval­bard­mel­ding”, a new govern­ment poli­cy state­ment for Sval­bard poli­tics for the upco­ming years. It is the first one sin­ce 2016.

Streng­thening Lon­gye­ar­by­en as an attrac­ti­ve place to live for Nor­we­gi­an fami­lies will be a focus for the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. Ano­ther one will be bet­ter con­trol of cri­ti­cal infra­struc­tu­re, cer­tain­ly inclu­ding Longyearbyen’s ener­gy sup­p­ly. Bet­ter (but not neces­s­a­ri­ly more) flats are ano­ther poli­ti­cal goal, and so is streng­thening employ­ment rights. Svalbard’s sci­ence land­scape will see a “sci­ence office”.

More details will have to wait a while. We left Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the after­noon with good old SV Anti­gua and we are loo­king for­ward to some beau­tiful days in nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen. News will have to wait a while, but the tra­vel blog should get some updates over the next cou­ple of days 🙂

Polar fox birth on film

The Nor­we­gi­an Insti­tu­te for Natu­re Rese­arch (NINA) has film­ed a polar fox mother giving birth to 8 cute litt­le fox babies. This remar­kab­le event took place in cap­ti­vi­ty in main­land Nor­way, within a pro­ject desi­gned to release polar foxes into the wild.

Click hie­re to access a short video on You­tube show­ing seg­ments of the birth. It is real­ly worth see­ing, even if you don’t under­stand the Nor­we­gi­an comm­ents (it is about the researcher’s inte­rest to learn more about sur­vi­val rates in and out­side the den).

Fur­therm­mo­re, the­re is a live­stream from the arti­fi­ci­al den. Don’t miss it while the­re is still some action in the­re! 🦊🐱🐱🐱🤩

P.S. in case the abo­ve link to the live­stream does not work, try to access the one on NINA’s web­site. It appears to chan­ge some­ti­mes.

polar foxes, Ny-Ålesund

Polar foxes near Ny-Åle­sund: pro­ba­b­ly siblings. Pho­to taken in August, seve­ral months after they were born (sym­bo­lic image).

Reinde­er with rabies near Ny-Åle­sund

A reinde­er was obser­ved near Ny-Åle­sund in ear­ly May that show­ed unu­su­al beha­viour that poin­ted towards rabies, inclu­ding part­ly para­ly­sed hind legs. The ani­mal was later, howe­ver, not found again so a rabies infec­tion could not be con­firm­ed alt­hough it appears likely.

Reindeer, rabies

Rabies is dan­ge­rous both for ani­mals and humans (sym­bo­lic image).

Rabies out­breaks have been recor­ded seve­ral times in Sval­bard. The patho­gen may for exam­p­le tra­vel long distances with polar foxes that can migra­te on sea ice. Long-distance migra­ti­ons such as from Rus­sia to Spits­ber­gen or from Spits­ber­gen to Cana­da is pos­si­ble. Dif­fe­rent mammal spe­ci­es such as foxes, reinde­er, seals and dogs may be affec­ted, and the dise­a­se can be very dan­ge­rous also for humans. It is gene­ral­ly stron­gly advi­sed not to touch any dead ani­mals.

Distance regu­la­ti­ons for polar bears in force from 2025

As expec­ted, the Nor­we­gi­an Par­lia­ment has pas­sed new regu­la­ti­ons regar­ding mini­mum distances to be kept from polar bears (and other stuff). The new rules will thus come into force in 2025.

This means that a mini­mum distance of 300 m is requi­red to be kept from any polar bear, regard­less of the cir­cum­s­tances. If a polar bear is dis­co­ver­ed within this distance or if it comes clo­ser (swim­ming or wal­king on ice or land), then you have to move away. This includes boats that are ancho­red. During spring (01 March – 30 June), the mini­mum distance is 500 met­res.

This is valid any­whe­re in Nor­we­gi­an waters such as Svalbard’s 12 mile zone.

Polar bear, distance

A com­mon way to obser­ve a polar bear is from a ship. In the case, the bear was curious and it had deci­ded to approach the ship. No dis­tur­ban­ce or risk invol­ved.
Nevert­hel­ess for­bidden in Nor­we­gi­an waters from 2025.


The issue has, as you might ima­gi­ne, been mat­ter for a hea­ted public deba­te for some time, which has been reflec­ted on this site more than once. The­re is no need to go into detail here again. Many, inclu­ding a num­ber of peo­p­le with signi­fi­cant rele­vant expe­ri­ence, have expres­sed that the new regu­la­ti­ons are rub­bish, to put it blunt­ly. This includes this aut­hor. The new rules will do litt­le for ani­mal pro­tec­tion or to pre­vent ris­ky situa­tions, but they will great­ly dama­ge the tou­rism and film indus­try. The regu­la­ti­ons in force so far for­bid approa­ching a polar bear in any way that would invol­ve a risk of dis­tur­ban­ce or even dan­ger to ani­mal or peo­p­le, and that is good enough. As far as the­re were pro­blems, they were not due to a lack of regu­la­ti­on but rather a lack of con­trol and enforce­ment. The lack of con­trol and enforce­ment will con­ti­nue in the future, but from 2025 on exis­ting meaningful regu­la­ti­on will be repla­ced with over­re­gu­la­ti­on.

Dan­ge­rous situa­tions occur often in con­nec­tion to camps or huts, and the new regu­la­ti­ons will not make a dif­fe­rence here.

Ice in Advent­fjord, spring in Advent­da­len

Some impres­si­ons from Longyearbyen’s near sur­roun­dings, whe­re the snow began to dis­ap­pear quite rapidly in ear­ly May. But the­re was quite a lot of drift ice in Advent­fjord (and not only the­re) in ear­ly May, much to the delight of many in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who enjoy­ed the views.

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

The two gulls are les­ser black-backed gulls (that’s what I think, at least; gulls are a bit of a sci­ence), quite rare birds in Spits­ber­gen.

Mean­while, the geese have arri­ved and gather on snow-free tun­dra are­as in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re are more and more of them every day, a beau­tiful time for bir­ders and natu­re lovers.

“Ice in Advent Bay”: 1896 and 2024

The ice in Advent­fjord remin­ded me much of an old image from 1896. This (below) is how the Eng­lish­man Mar­tin Con­way saw Advent­fjord – Lon­gye­ar­by­en did not exist back then, but the­re was a hotel at Hotell­ne­set, not far from whe­re the air­port is today.

Con­way and his group were the first ones to cross Spits­ber­gen over land from Advent Bay, as it was known back then, to the east coast. Later he wro­te the clas­sic “The first crossing of Spits­ber­gen”, which is high­ly recom­men­ded by the pre­sent aut­hor.

Ice in Adventfjord, Conway 1896

“Ice in Advent Bay”. This is how Mar­tin Con­way saw Advent­fjord in 1896.
It loo­ked very simi­lar in ear­ly May 2024.

17th May in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

17th of May is the Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal day, a big day that is cele­bra­ted ever­y­whe­re in Nor­way with flaggs, pro­ces­si­ons and cul­tu­ral events.

Also in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Here are some impres­si­ons from the cen­tral event, the assem­bly on the “Tor­get” (squa­re) with spee­ches and sub­se­quent pro­ces­si­on. In addi­ti­on, the­re was a ran­ge of other events from com­me­mo­ra­ti­ons to an evening in the cul­tu­re house with music etc.

Visit from Barents­burg, spee­ches trans­la­ted to Rus­si­an

The­re were at least some visi­tors from the neigh­bou­ring Rus­si­an sett­le­ment of Barents­burg, name­ly a group of child­ren who con­tri­bu­ted with sin­ging to the morning’s church ser­vice. Other than the children’s escorts, the­re was no adult dele­ga­ti­on as no offi­ci­al repre­sen­ta­ti­ves from Barents­burg were invi­ted. All spee­ches were were trans­la­ted into Rus­si­an. During the cen­tral assembling, Lokals­ty­re­le­der (“mayor”) Ter­je Aune­vik found sui­ta­ble words addres­sing the back­ground of the day’s cele­bra­ti­ons which empha­si­ze fami­ly-fri­end­ly events, child­rens’ pro­ce­si­ons and cul­tu­re in con­trast to mili­ta­ry para­des, cele­bra­ting demo­cra­cy and free­dom rather than mili­ta­ry vic­to­ries such as cer­tain neigh­bou­ring count­ries. Wit­hout expli­ci­te­ly men­tio­ning Rus­sia or the Rus­si­an war of aggres­si­on in the Ukrai­ne, but cle­ar­ly refer­ring to the­se, Aune­vik unmist­aka­b­ly high­ligh­ted the importance of demo­cra­cy, free­dom and peace.

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

The­re may have been tho­se indi­vi­du­als in the crowd who sil­ent­ly and pos­si­bly not wit­hout some sad­ness thought of the blow local demo­cra­cy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en had suf­fe­r­ed quite recent­ly when non-Nor­we­gi­an resi­dents were depri­ved of their voting rights.

Sami sym­bols

The last pic­tu­re shows a Sami natio­nal cos­tu­me (“same­kof­te”) and flagg. It was not too long ago that public dis­play of such Sami sym­bols on the natio­nal day was accept­ed. Just 10 years ago, it was allo­wed but often seen as pro­vo­ca­ti­ve and hence still mat­ter of a some­ti­mes loud and more or less hea­ted public deba­te. Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a small num­ber of inha­bi­tants with Sami roots (in an ever­y­day con­text, most will per­cei­ve them as Nor­we­gi­ans, which is true but not the enti­re sto­ry).

Pro­per­ty for sale in Recher­chefjord

It is almost temp­ting to wri­te “Spits­ber­gen about to beco­me Chi­ne­se”, but no, that is not the level we are working at here. That would be non­sen­se, alt­hough you might almost have belie­ved it, loo­king at some recent head­lines.

Pro­per­ty in Sval­bard: that’s how it star­ted

We have to go back to the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry for a moment. Spits­ber­gen was no man’s land and com­pa­nies, many small and a few lar­ger ones, came and clai­med rights, thin­king mining would be a way to make a for­tu­ne up north. Most com­pa­nies were far too small and did not have the expe­ri­ence or the funds to start mining at indus­tri­al level, but some did, such as John Mun­ro Longyear’s Arc­tic Coal Com­pa­ny which foun­ded Lon­gye­ar­by­en (then known as Lon­gyear City) in 1906.


60 sqa­re km of pro­per­ty are now on offer in Recher­chefjord – for 300 mil­li­on Euro.

Many of the small com­pa­nies quick­ly ran out of money, and some of them sold their claims to others. Many of the claims were over­lap­ping. It took years to sort this mess out, a pro­cess that was requi­red to be finis­hed befo­re the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty could enter force in 1925.

Com­pa­nies con­tin­ued to sell their various pro­per­ties also after 1925, and so did suc­ces­sors and heirs. Often it had beco­me clear that the­re would never be any mining or other kind of land use befo­re land or claims would be sold. Usual­ly the Nor­we­gi­an sta­te secu­red pro­per­ties and mining rights to get Svalbard’s land are­as under con­trol. By now, 99 % of Svalbard’s ground are owned by the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment. The Rus­si­an sta­te-owned mining com­pa­ny Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol owns some smal­ler land are­as in Isfjord (Barents­burg, Colesdalen/Grumant, Pyra­mi­den, Erd­mann­flya) – and then the­re is Kul­spids AS, one of many com­pa­nies that were foun­ded in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry to explo­re and exploit mine­ral resour­ces.

Kul­spids AS

Kul­spids AS secu­red a land area of 60 squa­re kilo­me­t­res in inner Recher­chefjord. Asbes­tos is one mine­ral found in the area and mining was attempt­ed, but not suc­cessful. Kul­spids AS still exists and still owns the pro­per­ty, which today’s owners of the com­pa­ny now want to turn into money, as was initi­al­ly repor­ted by Bloom­berg. The sto­ry was quick­ly picked up by various Nor­we­gi­an media inclu­ding NRK.

“All bidders wel­co­me” is the seller’s mes­sa­ge, addres­sing indi­vi­du­als, com­pa­nies and govern­ments ali­ke. It is poin­ted out that also govern­ments such as the ones in Chi­na or Rus­sia could buy the pro­per­ty, if a pri­ce could only be agreed on. And of cour­se the geo­po­li­ti­cal signi­fi­can­ce of arc­tic are­as in gene­ral is also high­ligh­ted by Kul­spids AS repre­sen­ta­ti­ve.

Geo­po­li­ti­cal signi­fi­can­ce – or not

Wha­te­ver the geo­po­li­ti­cal signi­fi­can­ce actual­ly might include is, hower, unclear: any new owner, as well as the cur­rent one, has to com­ply with the Sval­bard envi­ron­men­tal law and the Spits­ber­gen (Sval­bard) Trea­ty. This makes pret­ty much any kind of land use impos­si­ble. No future owner, inclu­ding the govern­ment of Chi­na (or Rus­sia, for that sake) would legal­ly be able to build a hotel, a har­bour, a rese­arch sta­ti­on, a mine or a mili­ta­ry base. Nobo­dy would even legal­ly be able to dri­ve a snow mobi­le wit­hout spe­cial per­mis­si­on from Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, which would be dif­fi­cult to get. The geo­po­li­ti­cal signi­fi­can­ce of the pro­per­ty bey­ond pres­ti­ge is hence doubtful.

Con­side­ring the abo­ve, rese­ar­cher Andre­as Øst­ha­gen of the Fri­dt­jof Nan­sen Insti­tu­te recom­mends the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment to remain calm and not make a very expen­si­ve panic purcha­se, accor­ding to Sval­bard­pos­ten. The mini­mum bid is set at the proud amount of 3.5 bil­li­on (yes, bil­li­on!) Nor­we­gi­an kro­ner – curr­ent­ly about 300 mil­li­on Euro. For com­pa­ri­son: at the latest com­pa­ra­ble trans­fer in 2014, when a lar­ge pro­per­ty on the north side of Advent­fjord was sold, the pri­ce was near one tenth of today’s mini­mum bid. Even then, the pri­ce was con­tro­ver­si­al – and mining or other land use would at least in theo­ry have been pos­si­ble, con­side­ring the pro­per­ty sold in 2014 was not part of any natio­nal park or other spe­ci­al­ly pro­tec­ted area.

Hence, it seems fair to assu­me that poin­ting at any geo­po­li­ti­cal or other importance of the pro­per­ty in Recher­chefjord or at poten­ti­al buy­ers such as Chi­na pri­ma­ri­ly ser­ve as a tool to push the pri­ce and to increase the pres­su­re on the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment to secu­re the land for Nor­way. Not­hing is so far known about any buy­ers actual­ly being inte­res­ted or any serious bids.

Mean­while, a spo­kesper­son of the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment said that the govern­ment had actual­ly made an offer in the past which was con­side­red gene­rous con­side­ring that the pro­per­ty does not come with any land use poten­ti­al. The offer was tur­ned down by Kul­spids AS. It was also said that becau­se of an old con­tract bet­ween the govern­ment and Kul­spids AS, the pro­per­ty can not be sold wit­hout govern­ment appr­oval.

In any case, this is the very last major land area in Sval­bard still in pri­va­te hands. Once it is sold, the time of major pro­per­ties chan­ging from one owner to ano­ther will be over. The­re are very few other, small pri­va­te pro­per­ties in Sval­bard. In tho­se cases whe­re for exam­p­le a pri­va­te per­son owns a house in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the pro­per­ty as such does not include the land the house is stan­ding on – this is alre­a­dy govern­ment pro­per­ty.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en locals: join Mean­der for a trip to Kongsfjord and Ny-Åle­sund!

From 23 May (Thurs­day) evening to 26 May (Sun­day) evening, that is.

The best things in life often come as a sur­pri­se. That’s how it is here and now: unex­pec­ted­ly, sai­ling ship Mean­der has some days off in May. Stay­ing in port is bor­ing, so we rather sail and have some fun – locals only, at a cost-cove­ring pri­ce!

Our idea is to sche­du­le a 3 day trip, aiming for Ny-Åle­sund and a look around in Kongsfjord, with seve­ral stops on the way the­re and back. Such as loo­king for wal­ru­ses in For­lands­und, crui­sing in Kongsfjord and making a landing or two some­whe­re in the­se waters as it fits. This is our plan A; of cour­se, ice and wea­ther may have a say in this as well.

SV Meander, Svalbard 2023

SV Mean­der last year on Spitsbergen’s north side.

Have a look at this pdf for all fur­ther details. Or email Mean­der‘s cap­tain and owner Mario direct­ly at info(at)sailing-expeditions.com if you are inte­res­ted.

This season’s first tri­plog: with SV Mean­der from Alta to Bodø

The 2024 arc­tic sai­son has begun! We spent 10 days with SV Mean­der sai­ling in north Nor­way from Alta to Bodø. If you fol­low my tra­vel blog on the­se pages then you know all about it and you have alre­a­dy seen a lot of pic­tures. Now the tri­plog is available. The tri­plog its­elf is in Ger­man, but it comes with ple­nty of pho­tos well sor­ted in 3 gal­le­ries. Start here.

SV Meander, Norway 2024

SV Mean­der in Troll­fjord.

It is cer­tain­ly worth cli­cking through the pho­tos. We were very lucky on this trip, with a lot of suns­hi­ne and no real­ly bad wea­ther, almost a bit unty­pi­cal for the area and that time of year, still late win­ter. And yes, the wha­les … but just have a look at the pic­tures.

Good SV Mean­der will keep sai­ling in north Nor­way also in the future, both in spring and in the late sea­son, in Novem­ber, when we count on see­ing nor­t­hern lights and orcas. Visit Sai­ling Expedition’s web­site for more infor­ma­ti­on.

The next tri­plog will come in June, after the trip with Anti­gua 31 May – 08 June.

Polar cir­cle, Salts­trau­men and Kjer­rin­gøy

A ship is cle­ar­ly the best way to tra­vel in a coun­try with a coast­li­ne as Nor­way has ⛵️👍😎 as we did it the last cou­ple of days with SV Mean­der. But belie­ve it or not, the­re are other opti­ons. To round this chap­ter of my tra­vels off, we had a good look around Bodø, from Salt­fjel­let with the polar cir­cle in the south to Salts­trau­men and Kjer­rin­gøy in the north. Beau­tiful places, some of which I am sure we will visit under sail as soon as the oppor­tu­ni­ty comes up.

A high­light for me was the sight­ing of moo­se – we don’t have them in Spits­ber­gen. We saw as many as nine of them just one evening! And no, that does not include the three reinde­er in the first image with hoo­fed ani­mals in the gal­lery below 😄.

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


Now, on the last full day of the trip, north Nor­way pre­sen­ted its­elf the way it is gene­ral­ly known: grey and a bit wet. Not bad at all, no wind and hea­vy rain, just some mois­tu­re. Quite refres­hing actual­ly after all tho­se sun­ny days.

After landing with the din­gi on the beach of Bø, whe­re we were gree­ted by a red fox, we fol­lo­wed a way to an area of rocky hills. Next to a sea eagle and some love­ly views, we found remains of a rather dark chap­ter of histo­ry. During the second world war, the Ger­man occu­p­iers built a huge coas­tal bat­tery known as “Bat­te­rie Dietl” here on Engeløya, an equi­va­lent of simi­lar for­ti­fi­ca­ti­on with some huge can­nons clo­se to Har­stad in Ves­terå­len.

In the after­noon, we had 48 miles to Bodø ahead of us and a series of pre­sen­ta­ti­ons of board. Then, in the har­bour of Bodø, the trip came to and end. It was a gre­at one, bles­sed with a lot of good wea­ther and wild­life – my thanks you all who were part of it in wha­te­ver way! The tri­plog will soon fol­low on a dedi­ca­ted page within the sec­tion – sur­pri­se! – tri­plogs and pho­to gal­le­ries.

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

Ships and rocks …

… are by no means a good com­bi­na­ti­on. That is gene­ral­ly well known, but nevert­hel­ess, some­ti­mes it hap­pens that both meet.

It hap­pen­ed actual­ly twice in Spits­ber­gen in April, short­ly after the begin­ning of the sea­son. To start with the good news: none of the­se inci­den­ces invol­ved serious con­se­quen­ces for life and limb or the envi­ron­ment.

The French ves­sel Polar­front hit the ground clo­se to the coast at Dia­ba­sod­den in Isfjord. Soon it recei­ved help from the coast guard, who evacua­ted the 12 pas­sen­gers and later pul­led Polar­front off the shal­low. The ship could sail back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en under its own steam. No dama­ge was found upon later inspec­tion. Inves­ti­ga­ti­ons have not been finis­hed yet, but “inat­ten­ti­ve navi­ga­ti­on” is suspec­ted rather than tech­ni­cal reasons.


Polar­front (archi­ve image).

Ano­ther case hap­pen­ed also in April, when Viking­fjord ran aground clo­se to the shore in Mag­da­le­nefjord. 22 per­sons were on board, inclu­ding 12 pas­sen­gers. Viking­fjord came afloat again with high water, appar­ent­ly wit­hout any dama­ge.

Yet ano­ther inci­dent hap­pen­ed at the west coast when a fire bro­ke out on the sai­ling ship Lin­den. The fire could be brought under con­trol and the ship sai­led to Lon­gye­ar­by­en for inspec­tion.


Nobo­dy who takes part in any kind of traf­fic should ever say he or she would never be invol­ved in an acci­dent, such as groun­ding when it comes to ship­ping. Nevert­hel­ess, when a ship runs aground at some pace pret­ty clo­se to the shore within gene­ral­ly well-known and well-char­ted waters, it may rai­se more than an eye­brow. Inves­ti­ga­ti­ons still need to be car­ri­ed out, but it seems to be a fair assump­ti­on that the­se invi­dents might well have been avo­ided with careful, pro­per navi­ga­ti­on. Lucki­ly, the­se cases remain­ed wit­hout con­se­quen­ces for health and life of peo­p­le or dama­ge to the envi­ron­ment. What remains is pro­ba­b­ly eco­no­mic­al trou­ble for the respec­ti­ve ship owners and tour oer­a­tors and poli­ti­cal dama­ge that might well later con­cern ever­y­bo­dy who is sai­ling in the­se waters.


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