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Sveagruva: a Norwegian coal mining settlement in Spitsbergen

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Tog­e­ther with Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Sveagru­va was the main place for Nor­we­gi­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen during lar­ge parts of the 20th cen­tu­ry and, with inter­rup­ti­ons, until 2015. The coal occur­rence was initi­al­ly occu­p­ied in 1910 by the Swe­de Ber­til Hög­bom for Jern­kon­to­ret og Tra­fik­ak­tie­bo­la­get Grän­ges­berg-Oxe­lö­sund (Hög­bom was also the one who star­ted Pyra­mi­den in a simi­lar way). The new occup­a­ti­on in Van Mijen­fjord was cal­led – sur­pri­se – “Sveag­ruf­van”, the “Swe­dish mine”. With a slight­ly dif­fe­rent spel­ling, the name has sur­vi­ved until today, but the place is usual­ly just refer­red to as “Svea” in com­mon lan­guage.

Over­view of the pan­ora­mas

Sveagru­va Map

In 1911, the ubi­qui­tous Bri­tish Nort­hern Explo­ra­ti­on Com­pa­ny (Ernest Mans­field, yes, that was the sto­ry of Ny Lon­don on Blom­strand­hal­vøya in Kongsfjord) tried to get a foot in the door by buil­ding two cabins, but that did not have any fur­ther con­se­quen­ces.

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In 1917 the Swe­dish AB Spets­ber­gen Svens­ka Kol­fält went ahead with first mining acti­ti­vies. But the pro­per­ty was sold as ear­ly as 1921 to the Svens­ka Sten­kols­ak­tie­bo­la­get Spets­ber­gen who enlar­ged and impro­ved the mining faci­li­ties, but they also had to give up for eco­no­mi­c­al rea­sons in 1925. Fur­ther acti­vi­ties were redu­ced to a small crew to guard the pro­per­ty until Nya Svens­ka Sten­kols­ak­tie­bo­la­get Spets­ber­gen made a new attempt with coal mining.

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The Nor­we­gi­an histo­ry of Sveagru­va star­ted in 1934 when Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK) bought the place and the mine. At this time, the Nor­we­gi­an government play­ed an important and acti­ve role in mining in Spits­ber­gen, and a poli­ti­cal wish to gain fac­tu­al con­trol over lar­ger are­as cer­tain­ly play­ed a role. Actual­ly secu­ring a reli­able ener­gy sup­ply to north Nor­way was ano­t­her important fac­tor for aqui­ring Svea, a histo­ry simi­lar to the deve­lo­p­ment in Ny-Åle­sund.

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The Second World War brought dest­ruc­tion also to Sveagru­va when a Ger­man sub­ma­ri­ne atta­cked the sett­le­ment with gun­fire (not during the lar­ge attack in 1943 during which Bar­ents­burg and Lon­gye­ar­by­en were lar­ge­ly des­troy­ed). The mine was soon ope­ned again after the war but all acti­vi­ties cea­sed from 1949 to 1970 due to the poor eco­no­my. SNSK deci­ded to focus on one of their pla­ces, and Lon­gye­ar­by­en, being Spitsbergen’s main sett­le­ment, was the obvious choice, as this was not only whe­re the admi­nis­tra­ti­on was loca­ted but ship­ping con­di­ti­ons were also much easier. Van Mijen­fjord is pro­tec­ted from the open sea by the island of Akseløya, hence the fjord ice was lying the­re much lon­ger in spring, making the ship­ping sea­son shor­ter.

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Mining in Sveagru­va was restar­ted in 1970 but did not con­ti­nue without dif­fi­cul­ties in the years to come. The place saw its best years after Svea Nord was ope­ned in 2001. Here, coal seems with a thic­kness of up to 6 metres were mined, enab­ling a very pro­fi­ta­ble mining ope­ra­ti­on. A road over a gla­cier had to be build to ope­ra­te Svea Nord, but this effort was more than balan­ced by the lar­gest coal occur­rence that was ever mined in Spits­ber­gen.

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The­re was fami­ly life in Sveagru­va during shor­ter peri­ods in his­to­ri­cal times, but Svea never ful­ly deve­lo­ped to beco­me a “nor­mal” sett­le­ment with a more or less sta­ble popu­la­ti­on of its own, with fami­lies and ever­ything that comes with fami­ly live, such as Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In more recent times, workers lived during their shifts in Sveagru­va, often for peri­ods of 2 weeks, but they actual­ly had their homes in Lon­gye­ar­by­en or even in main­land Nor­way. Hence, the infra­st­ruc­tu­re of the sett­le­ment never went bey­ond the needs of a com­pa­ny town, the­re was no public shop, no school, church or other public infra­st­ruc­tu­re. The flight con­nec­tion to Lon­gye­ar­by­en enab­led the miners to com­mu­te; during the win­ter, expe­ri­en­ced snow mobi­le dri­vers can cover the distance on the ground in less than one hour (some­thing the less expe­ri­en­ced visi­tor, without good local know­ledge, will never be able to accom­plish).

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A new mine was ope­ned in Febru­a­ry 2013 at Lunck­ef­jel­let, north of Svea Nord. The first ton of coal was pro­du­ced in Novem­ber the same year, but that was just sym­bo­lic, as the Lunck­ef­jel­let mine was to never enter real pro­duc­tion: eco­no­mi­c­al dif­fi­cul­ties for­ced SNSK in 2015 to run Lunck­ef­jel­let pure­ly in a stand­by mode. In 2017, the Nor­we­gi­an government, owner of the SNSK, deci­ded not to finan­ce fur­ther mining acti­vi­ties and then the poli­ti­cal decisi­on was made in Oslo to aban­don coal mining in Svea altog­e­ther. Soon the­re­af­ter, coal pri­ces star­ted to incre­a­se again on the world mar­ket, and alrea­dy in 2018 SNSK could cele­bra­te a solid pro­fit in mine 7 (Lon­gye­ar­by­en), even hiring miners again after several dif­fi­cult years also the­re. It is safe to assu­me that qui­te a few Svea miners will have bit­ten their own asses while obser­ving this deve­lo­p­ment, but the government in Oslo did not accept any dis­cus­sions about rene­wed mining acti­vi­ties in Svea. In con­trast, the near­by Nor­dens­kiöld Land Natio­nal Park is plan­ned to be enlar­ged to make sure nobo­dy will ever start mining again in Sveagru­va. The sett­le­ment its­elf and the mines will lar­ge­ly disap­pe­ar.

A coal pier was built at Kapp Ams­ter­dam, 5 kilo­me­tres south of Sveagru­va, whe­re depths allow lar­ge car­go ships to go along­side.

To page:  → The Sveagru­va area  → Sveagru­va (sett­le­ment)  → Svea Nord  → Lunck­ef­jel­let  → Kapp Ams­ter­dam

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last modification: 2020-02-05 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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