The guards from a cruise ship who shot an emaciated bear in self-defense in late July 2018 on the remote island of Phippsøya in northern Svalbard have had criminal charges against them dropped. It is illegal to kill polar bears in Norway, so the death of the bear automatically triggered a criminal investigation.
This case, which made international headlines and sparked outrage at the time, also saw charges laid against the cruise ship that employed the guards. However, all charges against the company have also been dropped. See below for details on the decision and my post about the incident in 2018. No information on the condition of the bear was included in the statement about criminal charges.
Here is the report from the Govenor of Svalbard (4 September 2020), courtesy Google Translate:
The first public prosecutor at Troms and Finnmark public prosecutor’s offices has dropped the criminal cases against the polar bear guards who shot and killed a polar bear on Phippsøya in July 2018 and against the company.
– The cases 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, says assistant governor Sølvi Elvedahl.
-In the case of the company, the Public Prosecutor has also not found that the conditions for punishment are present. The case against the company is therefore left to the position of the evidence, she states.
The incident happened on Saturday 28 July 2018 when four polar bear guards, an expedition leader, a photographer and a number of other crew members – a total of 14 people, from the tourist ship “Bremen” were put ashore with two zodiac boats in Isflakbukta on Phippsøya.
The polar bear guards went ashore first. Shortly after disembarking, the first two polar bear guards were sent out into the terrain to check for polar bears on the other side of a bank. The area was visible and appeared clear. However, it turned out that a polar bear was staying in a dump, so it was not visible from the boat or the beach. One polar bear guard went after the bear, who in cash attacked him.
The polar bear guard suffered head injuries after the attack, but survived. The polar bear was first shot at with frightening agents without reacting visibly to this, and without wanting to end the attack on the polar bear guard. Then three shots were fired that killed the polar bear.
– The case was documented with photos from the photographer who was involved, and the prosecution thus got a good overview of the incident, says Sølvi Elvedahl.
Criminal cases were opened against the two who shot at the polar bear and killed it – which follows from the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, where it is a criminal offense to kill a polar bear.
A case was also opened against the company. The investigation focused on, among other things, whether the company had routines that properly mapped hazards and problems, as well as the company’s measures with regard to procedures for polar bears and polar bear protection.