Big Fines Given for Illicit Firearms on Board Svalbard Ships

If you’re going to carry a gun on Svalbard, Norway — whether for protection against polar bears or any other reason — you’d better get a permit.

One French shipping company learned that lesson the hard way. The company, which government officials had not named as of this writing, violated Norway’s Arms Act by carrying 37 firearms and about 3,800 rounds of ammunition on board one of its ships in the country’s territorial waters.

Norwegian officials fined the company the equivalent of $82,000 and confiscated the weapons.

A search revealed that two ships contained the offending 37 weapons and ammo. Another, officials said, possessed another 13 firearms but was located outside territorial waters at the time. For those weapons, officials confiscated another $13,000.

According to the official release, a “report of concern” from the Governor’s Weapons Administration triggered the investigation.

Meanwhile, Polar Journal reported that the offending company operates as a commercial cruise business. If that’s the case, the outlet said, the infraction could “do enormous damage” to the tourism industry in Svalbard.

svalbard norway

Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Photo: Zairon/Shutterstock

 

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) regulates most tourist activity there, and its internal regulations also prohibit carrying unpermitted firearms in Norway. Cruise ships in arctic waters always carry firearms on board to protect passengers during hikes on land, but they must have permits valid for the country that they are visiting.

Two cruise ship bear monitors sweep an abandoned settlement before passengers come ashore, unaware that a polar bear is hiding behind a building nearby. The encounter, which occurred elsewhere in the Arctic, ended peacefully.

 

Carrying firearms in Svalbard was a matter of course before the government recently tightened regulations, especially for foreigners. Polar bears roam the archipelago freely, and encounters with people are common. But Svalbard’s new permit system could cause months of hold-ups for foreigners attempting to bring guns onto the island.

Stories exist of people in Longyearbyen leaning their rifles against light poles outside banks before entering. From the looks of things, Svalbard is now trying to convey that those days are over.