The Norwegian Government has dropped all charges against two crew members of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises for shooting and killing a polar bear while on an excursion on the island of Phippsoya in Svalbard in 2018.
Charges against the German line, Hapag-Lloyd have also been dropped.
The 2018 shooting of the wild polar bear in the Arctic between Norway and the North Pole by the guards from MS Bremen came under attack by conservationists. Cruise Passenger’s Facebook page also leapt to the bear’s defence.
Wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist, David Steen called the killing of the polar bear the “dark side of eco-tourism.”
Wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CNN in 2018: “It’s incredibly tragic. When there’s only 25,000 polar bears left on the planet, every one matters.”
On July 28, 2018, a 14-member party from the expedition ship, MS Bremen, including four polar bear guards, went ashore on a zodiac to Phippsoya. The polar bear guards got off first to check for bears.
The area appeared clear but a polar bear was present and hidden from the boat. The bear then attacked one guard who sustained head injuries. The other guards made an attempt to scare the bear off but it did not stop the attack. The two guards then fired three shots, killing the bear according to a report in The Maritime Executive.
Killing a polar bear is a crime under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and prosecutors opened a case against the two guards who fired the shots, as well as the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. After an investigation, the charges were dropped because the shots were fired to save a life.
“The case against the polar bear guards who shot and killed the polar bear have been dropped due to emergency law. This means that the act is punishable, but is considered legal because it was taken to save the life of the man who was attacked by the bear,” said Solvi Elvedahl, Svalbard’s assistant governor in a statement.
Polar bear attacks are an occasional problem in Svalbard and all personnel travelling outside of the main city of Longyearbyen are advised to carry firearms for self defence. Last month, a Dutch national was attacked and killed by a bear at a campsite outside the city. It was the sixth fatal attack in Svalbard in 50 years. The bear was later shot and killed.
Endangered polar bears are one of the big draw cards attracting cruise passengers in increasing numbers to the ice.
Hapag-Lloyd is an experienced adventure cruise operator. They were caught by surprise not just by the bear but by the reaction to the death of the polar bear on the ice.
Pictures of the stricken beast went viral around the world and immediately sparked a debate.