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Guns and ammo seized on two expedition ships in Svalbard lead to refocus on weapons regulations

A substantial amount of ammunition was found onboard both cruise ships
Authorities in Svalbard are stepping up efforts to make sure weapons regulations are followed after two cruise ships arrived in Longyearbyen illegally carrying up to 50 weapons and a significant amount of ammunition.

Firearms must be carried at all times by an experienced guide during excursions in Svalbard as a precaution against the 3,000 polar bears that live in the Svalbard archipelago and Barents Sea. 

The incident is alleged to have involved one French cruise line which failed to obtain the required authorisation from local police resulting in an 800,000 Norwegian kroner (€81,000) fine, according to Polar Journal.

‘We consider the situation to be a serious violation of the weapons legislation and the shipping company must expect a corporate penalty,’ said the deputy governor for Svalbard, Sølvi Elvedahl, of the incident last month.

The weapons – discovered during a search of the two ships – were subsequently seized and the governor ‘is now actively monitoring that weapons regulations are followed,’ added Elvedahl. 

Several requests by Seatrade Cruise News for comment from Ponant went unanswered this week.

AECO’s reaction

In addition to breaking Norway’s Firearms Act, the line breached the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) guidelines on the use of firearms in the region developed in collaboration with Svalbard’s governor, the Norwegian Polar Institute, WWF’s Arctic Program Office, Greenland Tourism and the Greenland Directorate of Environment and Nature, among others. AECO protocols state ‘It is imperative that safety rules be adhered to when firearms are stored, transported or used.’

‘Incidents that involve members of AECO may be subject to AECO’s incident procedures, which includes gathering information and considering all sides to the issue,’ the association’s Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen told Seatrade Cruise News.

‘The main objective of AECO’s incident procedures is to learn from the incident, and consider measures that will prevent unwanted incidents from happening again.’

Jørgensen previously told Norwegian news platform NRK that new weapons rules were put in place in Norway last year and that ‘they may not have been completely adapted to the conditions on Svalbard.’