Hapag-Lloyd guard in stable condition after polar bear shot dead in Svalbard attack

Bremen carried a four-person polar bear guard team on Spitsbergen as required by law Bremen carried a four-person polar bear guard team on Spitsbergen as required by law

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises said it is ‘extremely sorry’ that a polar bear was shot dead on the Sjuøyane Islands in Svalbard Saturday by a guard from expedition cruise ship Bremen after another polar bear guard from the ship’s four-man team was attacked on land by the animal.

The guard, who suffered head injuries, was responsive after the attack and was airlifted, the German cruise operator said.

He is now in a stable condition, a spokesman for the line told Seatrade Cruise News today. 

Act of self-defence

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises called the incident 'an act of self-defence, unfortunately it was necessary for the polar bear to be shot dead and we very much regret this.’ 

The incident occurred when the polar bear guard team prepared for a shore trip.

The cruise line statement said: ‘One of the guards was unexpectedly attacked by a polar bear that had not been spotted and he was unable to react himself. As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defence and to protect the life of the attacked person.’ 

The cruise operator added it is ‘very aware of its responsibility when travelling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respects all nature and wildlife.’ 

Ronny Brunvoll, manager of Visit Svalbard, the official tourism board for Svalbard and Longyearbyen—where Bremen and many expedition ships visiting the Arctic region turn around each year—told Norway’s government-owned radio and TV company NRK on the day of the incident that it is very common to land on the archipelagos outside Svalbard.

Referring to the incident, he commented: ‘It's very rare that it happens, but when it happens, it's very sad. It brings with it a lot of negative attention, and the last thing we want is that the polar bears and wildlife are disturbed and shot. Polar bears are unpredictable animals, and the terrain can be extremely insidious.’

The manager stated that all operators must follow a very strict regulatory framework to visit the area.

Polar bears are only observed from aboard ships

Hapag-Lloyd said of the area: 'Landings are possible only in a few places; these are not there to serve the purpose of polar bear observation, on the contrary: polar bears are only observed from aboard ships, from a safe distance. 

‘To prepare for a shore landings, polar bear guards go ashore in advance after sighting the landing site as a group and without passengers. They then set up a land station and check the area again to make sure that there are no polar bears in sight. As soon as such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately.’

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is co-operating with the Norwegian authorities to reconstruct and clarify the incident on the ground and will continue to do so, it said.

Svalbard's governor (Sysselmannen) is investigating: 'We have ascertained some of the facts and are piecing together what happened,' according to Ole Jakob Malmo, police superintendent at the governor’s office.

In order to visit Svalbard, cruise operators need to notify Sysselmannen, fill forms and follow certain guidelines.

Bremen's fleet mate, Europa 2, is scheduled to call at Longyearbyen for the first time on August 6.

See also 'Arctic expedition cruise operators take polar bear safety "extremely seriously"'

Posted 30 July 2018

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Mary Bond

Publisher/Editor in Chief Seatrade Cruise News & Seatrade Cruise Review