Cruise ship guards ‘tried to scare polar bear away before killing it’

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Norwegian authorities have defended the actions of guards from a German cruise ship who killed a polar bear that had attacked and injured a crew member.

The guards on board the MS Bremen had tried to scare the creature away at first, authorities said, as anger mounted over the killing of the vulnerable creature.

Police spokesman Ole Jakob Malmo said two members of the 12-man crew that set foot on the most northern island of the Svalbard archipelago ahead of tourists on Saturday first tried to ward off the bear “by shouting and making loud noises as well as firing a signal pistol, but to no effect”.

The incident sparked international outrage, with animal rights activists saying that it was wrong in the first place to let tourists from the cruise ship encroach upon territory known to be a habitat for the vulnerable species.

A 42-year-old German man who was not identified sustained minor head injuries from the attack, Mr Malmo said.

The German cruise ship operator Hapag Lloyd Cruises said on its Facebook page that the purpose of the landing on Svalbard was not “to serve the purpose of polar bear observation, on the contrary: polar bears are only observed from aboard ships, from a safe distance”.

The firm said on its Twitter feed that the bear was shot “to save the life of the guard”.

British comedian Ricky Gervais took to Twitter to call the tourists “morons”, while another user, Jane Roberts, said that if such tourism was banned, guards “wouldn’t be needed to protect gawking tourists & polar bears would be left in peace & not shot dead merely to satisfy a photo op”.

The archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole is known for its stunning snow-covered mountains, fjords and glaciers, and is a popular cruise ship destination.

On its website, the office for the archipelago’s governor said bears may appear anywhere on Svalbard and urged people “to stay as far away as possible to avoid situations that could be dangerous for you and for the bear”.

An estimated 20,000-25,000 bears live in the Arctic.

Svalbard is dotted with warnings about polar bears. Visitors who choose to sleep outdoors receive stern warnings from authorities that people must carry firearms while moving outside of settlements.

In 2015, a polar bear dragged a Czech tourist out of his tent as he and others were camping north of Longyearbyen — Svalbard’s main settlement — clawing his back before being driven away by gunshots.

Jakub Moravec who was slightly injured, was among a group of six on a combined ski and snow scooter trip on the remote islands. The bear was eventually found and killed by local authorities.

The animal killed on Saturday was transported to Longyearbyen to be routinely examined, Mr Malmo said.

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