Category Archives: Svalbard

‘WHAT AN ADVENTURE OF A LADY’: Mary-Ann Dahle, legendary owner of Longyearbyen’s most eclectic lodge (and coat) dies

Mary-Ann Dahle was a dear. And a fox. And a bear. And she kept the penis bones of the aforementioned Svalbard animals and more in a glass case at her bar to place as swizzle sticks in customers’ drinks.

Dahle, 72, died Saturday after a long battle with cancer. She was as well-known for her range of always-intriguing personas as her rustic lodge that attracted famous and adventuresome threadbare alike – and of course her long polar bear coat with the head still attached (“the national coat of Svalbard…it’s very heavy”).

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR SATURDAY: UNIS cancels summer classes, ‘doomsday vault’ meets COVID-19, MOSAiC updates, an hour of Sunday is ‘cancelled’ and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Sure Mark, no problem. Photo of Tarjei Våtvik and his kids, Emmett and Liam, playing with blocks “Svalbard-style” taken by their mother, M Daiane Alvarenga Våtvik.

As if Longyearbyen hasn’t lost enough jobs, things to do and everything else due to the coronavirus pandemic, now we’re losing an hour of tomorrow.

That’s not COVID-19’s fault, of course, because Father Time was going to start Daylight Savings Time here at 2 a.m. Sunday regardless of how old he’s getting since he seems to have an immunity thing to the virus that still has no official cases in Svalbard as of 1 p.m. Saturday. But it is worth keeping in mind if, say, you’re hoping to go a community snowball fight scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday at a place to be announced presumably well before then.

So far it appears Svalbard is experiencing its third straight abnormally quiet weekend –and remember, while it might seem forever ago, Norway’s quarantine has only been in effect since two weeks old Fridays ago. But with local tourism and public officials increasingly conceding longer-term consequences such as the near-total loss of the summer cruise ship season, other entities such as The University Centre in Svalbard are announcing similar cancellations.

7M KRONER IN CRISIS AID FOR SVALBARD’S ‘EXEMPT’ LAID-OFF EMPLOYEES: Preliminary plan by Norway’s government offers 20 days of benefits, effective until June 20

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Svalbard residents exempt from regular unemployment/insurance benefits because they are from non-EU/EEU countries will be eligible for 20 days of benefits until June 20, according to a preliminary crisis plan announced Friday by Norway’s government.

The Svalbard section of the nationwide plan – drafted due to a March 19 request of Parliament, which will need to approve the final proposal – is “a one-time limited crisis package for Svalbard because of the consequences the coronavirus has had and will have for the settlements in Svalbard,” the report states.

“Employees as mentioned above and registered in the population registry with addresses in Longyearbyen will be able to receive benefits based on social assistance rates for up to 20 days, up to June 20,” the plan states (which, practically speaking, means four five-day work weeks). “For families with children with a registered living time of at least six months benefits may be received throughout the period up to June 20.”

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR FRIDAY: Svalbard tops unemployment claims, trade ministry opening first non-Oslo office in Svalbard, Skinnboden at mall closing and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of at least some construction going on normally by Mark Sabbatini.

“This is the highest unemployment rate in Norway since World War II” at 10.4 percent and Svalbard has the highest unemployment rate of any region in Norway at more than 14 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration. But while the report showing a 95 percent nationwide jump in claims since March 17 emphasizes the obvious – the sharp increase is due to the coronavirus crisis – the numbers don’t yet appear to reflect the reported 90 percent layoffs of Longyearbyen’s tourism workers (and possibly other sectors) or the high percentage of foreign residents ineligible to claim benefits.

AUTOPSY – BEAR DIED OF ANESTHESIA-RELATED CAUSES: Officials cite ‘unfortunate,’ but not unexpected reasons polar bear stunned near Longyearbyen died on helicopter flight north

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A two-year-old polar bear sedated and flown by helicopter away from Longyearbyen in late January because of repeated visits in/near town died during the flight of “circulatory failure/shock due to the combination of prolonged chasing, stress and drug anesthesia,” the Norwegian Polar Institute declared in a statement Thursday following an autopsy.

WHEN ISOLATION ALLOWS EXPLORATION: With everyone but residents cut off from Svalbard, locals able to enjoy traditional Easter-season cabin trips since archipelago is one ‘district’

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There aren’t many options for Longyearbyen folks desiring a “staycation” during the Easter holiday period starting this weekend (although Barentsburg is proving a sought-after lodging option), but a nationwide ban on most cabin stays during the coronavirus restriction period doesn’t apply to Svalbard, thus making the traditional trips here possible – with some vacancies not always available this close to the holiday.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR THURSDAY: Spring environmental grants postponed until fall, library offers ‘book taxi,’ Fri./Sat. boat trips to Pyramiden and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of “loading at coal pier still happening as normal this week” by Anne Lise Klungseth Sandvik.

Svalbard remains free of officially diagnosed cases of coronavirus as the second week of a nationwide quarantine ends (and remains in effect until at least April 13).  But another of many widespread economic impacts hit Thursday as the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund announced it is delaying the consideration of tens of millions of kroner in requests scheduled in April until fall since funding for them is no longer certain.

However, for those isolated at home another volunteer service is being provided in the form of a “book taxi” on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, while those able/inclined to get out are being offered discount boat trips to Pyramiden (or as close as the sea ice allows) Friday and Saturday.

“A HUGE PLUS AT THE NEW STARTING POINT”: Barentsburg tourism director states Svalbard’s “clean” status will be big draw if travel ban lifted by summer; 157 visitors in past week

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While Longyearbyen is grappling with catastrophic consequences of the coronavirus crisis and all but writing off tourism for the summer and possibly beyond, an optimistic outlook continues to be expressed in Barentsburg where the tourism director asserted this week Svalbard’s status as the only “clean” Arctic destination will eventually be a huge advantage.

“This will be a huge plus at the new starting point of the summer tourist season, which we are all preparing for,” wrote Timofey Rogozhin in a post on his Facebook page Tuesday. (Note: an elaboration by Rogozhin submitted to us in English is at the end of this article.) 

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR WEDNESDAY: Harbor predicts no big cruise ships and 75% loss of activity for 2020, city asks locals to participate in health survey and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of sign next to that “other” bear sign by Baoqing Du.

Svalbard remains free of officially diagnosed coronavirus cases as of late Wednesday morning, but the city is asking residents to complete a Norwegian Institute of Public Health survey  if they suspect they have or had symptoms associasted with the virus, especially during the past seven days.

Longyearbyen Harbormaster Kjetil Bråten said he is expecting no large cruise ships this season since the companies are cancelling itineraries well in advance and a 75 percent drop in total revenue/activity for 2020 if a normal level of traffic returns by fall.

NORWAY EXTENDS CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS UNTIL APRIL 13: Delay until after Easter means locals unable to ‘isolate’ w/ usual cabin visits; specifics of local aid plan still pending

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Norway announced Tuesday restrictions imposed March 13 due to the coronavirus, including the closure of schools/businesses and a ban on foreigners who are not citizens/residents from entering the country, will be extended until April 13 instead of ending on Friday as originally scheduled (see specific measures at end of article).

Additional restrictions are in place for Svalbard, including a quarantine for people travelling here from the mainland, although an easing of them previous announced means those who’ve already been quarantined on the mainland can seek exemption from Longyearbyen Hospital. (There are also exemptions to the overall restrictions that apply to those in essential public-service occupations.)

The extension until after Easter, in addition to furthering the near-standstill of the local tourism industry that is resulting in 90 percent of employees being laid off, means many locals who typically “isolate” themselves in cabins during the holiday period will be unable to do so due to a nationwide prohibition against staying in them.

The announcement did not include any mention of specifics in the plan the government is drafting to provide Svalbard-specific assistance to the large number of foreign residents who are not eligible for unemployment/insurance benefits because they are not from EU/EEA countries.