Category Archives: Svalbard

DISASTER EXERCISE SHOWS SVALBARD STILL NOT ENTIRELY SHIP-SHAPE: Area’s second-largest simulated cruise ship rescue shows lessons learned and persisting shortcomings


Photo by Anders Røegge / Barentswatch

Simulated News Service – At least four people were killed and dozens injured by a fire aboard a cruise ship about 60 kilometers northwest of Longyearbyen on Friday morning, triggering a massive rescue operation to airlift the roughly 200 people aboard by helicopter to temporary emergency facilities hastily built in -10C conditions on a nearby snow-covered shore.

Officials said favorable conditions prevented a worse disaster due to shortcomings exposed during the remote Arctic rescue, which “would not have gone well” if a larger ship with thousands of passengers was involved…

Such was “reality” for about 500 rescuers, volunteers role-playing as victims and others participating in a day-long exercise to test and evaluate Svalbard’s emergency preparedness for a scenario officials see as increasingly likely as ship traffic to the archipelago continues to increase over the long term. While numerous upgrades in equipment and technology have occurred in recent years, as with other large-scale drills deficiencies continue to be revealed.

LOCAL POPULATION HITS RECORD HIGH, DESPITE COVID-19: Norwegians represent almost all new Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund residents; ratio of foreigners drops to 35.3%


Image courtesy of Longyearbyen Lokalstyre

Svalbard’s population hit a record high 2,936 residents as of July 1 despite massive layoffs and the worst economic setbacks in Norway during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020, according to Statistics Norway.

In addition to that oddity, nearly all new residents were Norwegians while the percentage of foreign residents dropped – both striking contrasts to long-term pre-pandemic trends. The latest numbers reveal both the extra hardship foreigners faced during layoffs and the Norwegian government’s efforts to boost Norwegian presence in the archipelago.

SVALBARD’S FIRST OFFICIAL COVID-19 CASE: Russian fisherman on vessel near Bjørnya briefly hospitalized in Longyearbyen; officials not worried about risk to others


It’s official: the first COVID-19 case in Svalbard was recorded this week when a Russian fisherman who was ill aboard a vessel near Bjørnøya was transported to Longyearbyen Hospital for about 13 hours before being sent to the mainland for treatment of the virus. Local and health officials said they do not believe his presence will risk having the disease spread to others in the archipelago.

MINE 7 CLOSING IN 2023: Shutdown of last Norwegian coal mine accelerated again as Longyearbyen will switch to diesel for power; production to increase for final two years


Photo courtesy of Store Norske

The last Norwegian coal mine will cease operations in 2023 – five years sooner than an already accelerated plan envisioned just months ago – as Longyearbyen’s Community Council voted this week to shut down the town’s coal-fired power plant and temporarily switch to diesel until a permanent alternative source is determined.

As a result, Store Norske said it cannot operate Mine 7 profitably without supplying the power plant, although it will boost the mine’s production by about 30 percent until the shutdown to take advantage of current high coal prices in Europe. The shutdown will result in the loss of about 55 man-years of labor.

SWEET SOUND OF FREEDOM: Dark Season Blues and Arctic Chamber Music festivals among Svalbard events turning up the volume after a missed year as COVID-19 restrictions lifted


While there’s some harsh “post-Covid” tones on the mainland in the form of violent celebration and foreign countries putting Norway in the highest-risk travel categories, the immediate sounds from Svalbard were harmonious as organizers of various upcoming events including two major music festivals announced they are launching/expanding plans following cancellations of last year’s events.

MOST SVALBARD COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS LIFTED: Negative virus test before entry, occupancy/tour/cruise limits nixed as of Saturday as Norway reopens borders to many countries


Photo by Christopher Michel / Creative Commons

A major step toward resuming “normal everyday life” in Norway begins at 4 p.m. Saturday when most COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, including a negative virus test within 24-hours of travel to Svalbard, rigid requirements for conducting tour operations in the archipelago, and capacity limits at lodges and other facilities, officials announced Friday.

However, some Svalbard-related rules remain in effect, including travelers from abroad completing any entry quarantines on the mainland before travelling to the archipelago. Also, while Norway’s borders are opening to many more countries with fewer entry limits (on vaccinated persons in particular), travel from numerous countries considered at-risk (such as the U.S.) is still banned.

REVEALED – POSITIVE COVID-19 TEST IN SVALBARD IN JAN. 2020! Kim Holmén’s positive test after China trip set off panic among officials, but negative follow-up led to ‘no cases’ claims


“The alarm bells are ringing. Not just in Longyearbyen. They call in the Norwegian Institute of Public Health top management. And the Minister of Health. And the Foreign Minister. And the Prime Minister. That Norway’s first case of COVID-19 has occurred in little Svalbard, with its four doctors, is almost catastrophic.”

That top-level panic in January of 2020, several weeks before a global pandemic was declared, remained unknown to the public until this week when a newly published book revealed a prominent scientist in Longyearbyen tested positive for the virus after returning from a trip to China.

While their fears were averted when a follow-up test was negative – resulting on what an official called “the best exercise we have had” in preparation for outbreaks – it means the claim Svalbard is one of the few places on Earth with no COVID-19 cases is, while not a lie, a distortion of the truth.

NORWAY’S GOV’T GETS ‘GREEN’ LIGHT FOR CHANGE – WILL IT AFFECT SVALBARD? Labor to replace Conservatives after election, but local policies and Arctic oil drilling likely to go on


Photo of incoming Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Longearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen by Marte Kristiansen / Norwegian Labor Party

Norway’s government is changing as the Labor Party is set to replace the Conservative-led coalition after last Monday’s election. But the governing of Svalbard likely won’t change in most matters despite climate and environmental issues dominating the campaign, according to local officials and others familiar with the archipelago’s politics.

Still, potential changes in environmental and/or economic actions such as oil exploration in the waters around Svalbard could have significant long-term impacts – but analysts are at polar opposites predicting if that will happen.

UPDATE – NO COVID-19 AT UNIS: Negative tests of suspected people means university will resume activities Thursday; caution urged since many reporting ‘common cold’ symptoms


Photo courtesy of UNIS

Svalbard is still officially COVID-19 free.

An alert issued Tuesday about possible infections issued by The University Centre in Svalbard was cancelled on Wednesday when negative tests “and other information” indicatec it is safe to resume in-person classes and fieldwork. But officials said numerous locals are experiencing and reporting common cold symptoms, so the need to be cautious remains.

BREAKING – COVID-19 SUSPECTED AT UNIS: University says it will take 48 hours to know if ‘some of our students and colleagues’ are infected; fieldwork, in-person classes cancelled


Photo courtesy of UNIS

The first cases of COVID-19 may have reached Svalbard, as multiple students and staff at The University Centre in Svalbard are suspected of being infected, according to an e-mail sent through the university system by health, safety and infrastructure director Fred S. Hansen on Tuesday evening.

It will be 48 hours after further tests are conducted Wednesday to know if the people in question have the virus, according to the e-mail. In-person classes and fieldwork are cancelled at least until Sunday.