Briefs from Svalbardposten for the week of Feb. 14, 2017


UNIS boat trip that stranded occupants may have violated law
The malfunction of a boat that left 12 students and staff from The University Centre in Svalbard stranded for hours on the icy sea between Barentsburg and Longyearbyen last month will be investigated by The Norwegian Maritime Authority.A leak in the boat was discovered, and both engines and the power failed shortly thereafter, forcing those aboard to manually pump water out until they were rescued by the Norwegian Coast Guard. Kjetil B. Sørensen, a senior regulations consultant for the NMD, said generally speaking such boats are only allowed to carry passengers between May 1 and Oct. 1. Furthermore, the boat must have sheltered space for all passengers. In the UNIS incident, four passengers were forced to sit outside the cabin in the minus 20 degree Celsius cold. The regulations make exceptions, including for boats that are not in used in connection with business, so a key question is the how the concept of a business is interpreted, according to Sørensen. The Governor of Svalbard is also requesting the agency’s report to assess it for violations and The University Centre in Svalbard is conducting its own investigation, which is expected to be completed within a week. Concern about the lack of an immediate action by government agencies was expressed by Mats Martinsen, chairman of Hurtigbåtforbundet HRF, an organization with about 55 passenger-transport companies with 120 vessels, who said a similar incident on the mainland would have triggered an immediate investigation. “The rules must be the same for Svalbard, if not stricter, because of tougher climate and distances,” he said.

Governor to critics: We can’t guarantee polar bears won’t enter town
The Governor of Svalbard is responding to criticism about its handling of a mother polar bear and two cubs who wandered into and near Longyearbyen several times last month by stating officials cannot guarantee they can keep bears out of town. Among those complaining was the mother of a toddler who lives on Vei 238, where the bears passed during one trip into town, who in an e-mail stated officials should have done a better job of monitoring due to the repeated earlier visits. “I fully understand that the governor can not be everywhere to make sure of where bears are moving, but when you let them enter into the city then I think that letting them pass right by in Longyearbyen is a failure,” wrote the woman, who stated she wanted to remain anonymous. Ole Jakob Malmo, the governor’s chief of police, said officials monitor and chase bears away from the settlements when they are notified, but “it is not practicable for us to monitor and follow a polar bear around the clock.” Torgeir Prytz, who has a cabin at Hiorthhamn, said the governor should have notified cabin occupants about the sightings of bears nearby, but Malmo said the scope of such an effort wouldn’t be practical. “We have chosen to stay in a place where polar bears live and travel,” he said. “It is therefore important that each of us is always observant and properly equipped when we go out.”