The polar bear case on Phippsøya has been stayed | Polarjournal
At the landing site on Phippisøya, the polar bear guards were surprised by the polar bear. He had to be shot in self-defense. (Photo; Sysselmannen)

The first prosecutor of the Troms and Finnmark Prosecutor’s Office has closed the criminal case against the polar bear guards who shot a polar bear on Phippsøya in July 2018. This was published on 04.09.2020 by the Sysselmannen of Svalbard on their website.

Phippisøya is located in the very north of the Svalbard archipelago.

Charges against the polar bear guards who shot the polar bear were dropped under the Emergency Act. This means that the action is punishable, but is considered legal because it is intended to save the life of the man who was attacked by the bear, says Deputy Governor Sølvi Elvedahl.

In the case of the ship company, the Public Prosecutor’s Office also has not established that the conditions for punishment are in place. The evidence was based on the following points:

The incident took place on Saturday, July 28, 2018, when four polar bear guards, an expedition leader, a photographer and a number of other crew members – a total of 14 people – landed from the tourist ship “Bremen” with two Zodiac boats in Isflakbukta on Phippsøya.

The polar bear guards came ashore first. Shortly after disembarking, the first two polar bear guards were sent out to scout for polar bears on the other side of a sandbank. The area was visible and seemed clear. However, it turned out that a polar bear was in a hollow, so it was not visible from the boat or the beach. When the polar bear noticed the arrivals, he approached one of the polar bear guards and attacked him.

The polar bear guard suffered head injuries in the attack but survived. The attempt to drive the polar bear away first with alarm ammunition was left with no visible reaction and without a sign to stop the attack on the polar bear guard. Then three shots were fired that fatally hit the polar bear.

The case was documented with photos of the photographer involved, and the prosecution got a good overview of the incident, says Sølvi.Elvedahl.

The two who shot and killed the polar bear were subsequently prosecuted – which is the result of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, which makes it a criminal offence to kill a polar bear.

Proceedings have also been opened against the company. The investigation focused, among other things, on whether the company had a routine to properly assess the dangers and problems, as well as on compliance with and protection of measures relating to the behaviour of polar bears.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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