‘ILLEGAL/RECKLESS DRIVING NOT COVERED BY DAMAGE WAIVER’: Tourists take rental truck beyond road in Bjørndalen, abandon it when it becomes stuck; now also face criminal fines


Photo by Thomas Nilsen

Instant classic for the “don’t this if you’re a tourist in Svalbard” list: Visitors who drove a rental truck beyond the road onto the soggy tundra in Bjørndalen to “see wild animals in their proper element” got hopelessly stuck in mud and abandoned the vehicle without reporting it. So in addition to some hefty extra rental penalties they’re now facing criminal charges (and fines) for illegal driving that also violates environmental protection laws.

The abandoned vehicle from Arctic Autorent, stuck 150 meters beyond the end of the road, was reported by hikers Saturday afternoon to The Governor of Svalbard. The driver was subsequently tracked down by police and admitted the violations, according to Svalbardposten.

“The reason for the illegal off-road driving was the tourists’ desire to see wild animals in their proper element,” the newspaper reported. “Polar foxes were mentioned. Whether the wish was fulfilled, the police report says nothing about.”

The vehicle will remain stuck until at least Monday its removal request can be approved by the governor’s environmental protection division.

“He needs to pay for cost of any damage to the car and saving of the car,” Thomas Nilsen, managing director of Arctic Autorent, stated in an online interview. “How much it is I don’t know, but it will not be cheap. And then he will probably get a huge fine from (the governor).”

Still, it’s hardly the most egregious example of dimwitted driving in Svalbard recently: A Ukrainian man was fined 15,000 kroner by the governor in 2018 for driving out onto the ice near Pyramiden to get a close-up look at polar bears doing their spring hunting.