Illegal weapons seized on cruise ships off Svalbard | Polarjournal
Watching polar bears like this from a safe distance is always an unforgettable experience. If, despite all precautions, an unwanted encounter occurs during shore excursions, you should be properly equipped to scare the bear away. Photo: Michael Wenger

In Svalbard, it is best to be equipped with a weapon outside settlements, according to the governor’s recommendation. Polar bears can suddenly appear behind any hill, behind any rock, and you should have something with you to scare them and turn them in another direction. Therefore, every ship that plans shore excursions has taken appropriate precautions. However, the rules for bringing weapons to the archipelago are very strict. One shipping company apparently did not observe them – the governor of Spitsbergen seized several weapons on two cruise ships a few days ago.

During the search of the two ships of the same company, about 50 weapons and a lot of ammunition were seized, for which there is no police authorization, deputy governor Sølvi Elvedahl said in a press release. The shipping company, which is not from Norway, has already been charged, police attorney Magnus Rindal Fredriksen said. Once the investigation is complete, the case will be prosecuted, Fredriksen told Norwegian news agency NTB.

“We consider the situation a serious violation of the weapons legislation and the shipping company will face a corporate fine. The governor is now actively monitoring compliance with gun laws,” Elvedahl said.

During land excursions in polar bear territory, the guide always carries a weapon, although it is extremely rare that it has to be used. The shore excursions are so well prepared that encounters with polar bears on land are very rare. Photo: unknown

The two ships were searched after a message of concern from the administration. “It is natural that we want to have control over weapons that are brought in, and that is also conceivable in relation to the situation that Norway is in. We want control over weapons for societal security reasons,” Elvedahl said. The shipping company had stated that the weapons had been on board solely for protection against polar bears.

Frigg Jørgensen, secretary general of AECO (Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators), told Norwegian news platform NRK she regrets that a cruise operator has violated regulations. “There were new weapons rules in Norway last year. They may not have been completely adapted to the conditions on Svalbard. Now they have been put into practice on Svalbard in connection with the start of the tourist season,” she says. “This has led to some confusion in terms of what applies.”

On the other hand, there is also the possibility that firearms application approvals were not received in time, as processing can take up to ten weeks. “Still, it’s quite clear that you must comply with current regulations no matter where you sail,” Jørgensen says.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Featured image: Michael Wenger

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