A cruise line is experiencing intense scrutiny and backlash after their visit to the Arctic Circle resulted in the tragic death of a polar bear. In what is being called “an act of self-defense” by Hapag-Lloyd cruise line, the bear was shot by a guard specifically hired to protect their guests and crew during dangerous encounters. But many outraged members of the public are saying that the cruise line should never have created the situation which resulted in the animal’s death in the first place.
How The Incident Happened
The incident took place Saturday as the Hapag-Lloyd ship Brement was preparing for a shore excursion. As the cruise line explained via a statement on their Facebook page, “A polar bear guard — an expert employed by the cruise line — was attacked on land by a polar bear. The guard suffered head injuries, however, he was responsive after the attack and was airlifted. He is out of danger, with no threat to life. In an act of self-defense, unfortunately, it was necessary for the polar bear to be shot dead.”
The line goes on to say that they, “very much regret this incident” as they are “very aware of [our] responsibility when travelling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respect all nature and wildlife.”
The statement explains that in preparing to take a group of visitors ashore in Spitzbergen — a Norwegian archipelago — an advance group of polar guards are sent ashore without passengers. The shore excursion is not, the company says, about polar bear observation. “On the contrary,” the statement explains, “polar bears are only observed from aboard ships, from a safe distance.”
In fact, the advance guards are essentially there to make sure that the area is clear of wildlife so that the visitors may come ashore. “They then set up a land station and check the area again to make sure that there are no polar bears in sight,” the statement continues. “As soon as such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately.”
In this case, one of the guards was attacked unexpectedly by a polar bear that had not been spotted. “As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defense and to protect the life of the attacked person,” says Hapag-Lloyd. The injured man was airlifted to a hospital where he is recovering from his injuries.
"Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has been traveling to these destinations for many years with an experienced crew," the statement concludes. "The cruise operator is respected in the destinations as a responsible partner and the experts actively inform the guests about the appropriate behavior required in these areas. We are extremely sorry that this incident has happened."
Reaction To The Incident
Given that the current "population status" of polar bears is listed as "vulnerable" due to their decreasing number, it is perhaps not surprising that the company has come under intense fire for how the incident played out.
The comments left beneath Hapag-Lloyd's Facebook statement are almost entirely comprised of people expressing their outrage. "Customers need to start asking themselves if they feel good about a native bear being shot dead to enable their selfish intrusion into this beautiful creature's home," wrote one upset poster. Others have suggested everything from boycotts of the line to Hapag-Lloyd making significant changes to the way they do business and making significant donations to various wildlife organizations.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Andy Silver