A polar bear has been shot dead by MS Bremen’s cruise ship guard during a shore excursion to Spitsbergen, part of Norwegian archipelago Svalbard that lies between mainland Norway and the North Pole.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, the owner of the ship, ascribed the incident to self-defense as one of the four members of the landing party team was reportedly attacked by the bear. As informed, the bear had not been spotted prior to the incident and, despite attempts to scare off the wild animal, the bear would not leave. Due to the said circumstances, the guards intervened to save the attacked person and shot the bear.
The attacked guard did not sustain life-threatening injuries and has been provided with required medical treatment.
The company added that it was cooperating closely with the Norwegian authorities on the investigation into the incident and expressed regret that the incident occurred. Polar bears have been protected in Norway since 1973 as the species is threatened by extinction. The animal has been faced with dwindling food supplies amid shrinking of the ice habitat and warming of the seas due to the climate change.
Svalbard is a vast archipelago, almost the size of Denmark, and only a few landing sites have been identified safe for cruise ship companies. All cruise ship companies venturing into the Arctic have to employ bear guards to protect passengers while on sight-seeing tours. Before the sight-seeing can take place the guards are required to check the site for safety. In cases when an animal is sighted the tour is interrupted and passengers return to the ship.
However, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises said that polar bears are solely observed from aboard ships, keeping a safe distance from the animals.
The move has been faced with vast criticism from the public and environmental organizations saying that the area is a polar bear habitat and that expeditions to the area should follow the protocol and ensure the wildlife is not threatened in any way.