German cruise line operator Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has found itself in the middle of an online firestorm after a guard shot and killed a polar bear during a shore excursion to an Arctic archipelago from one of its expedition cruise ships over the weekend.
In a statement posted to Facebook on Sunday, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises says it “very much regrets” the incident but made clear that lethal measures against the polar bear were taken purely out of self-defense.
The incident occurred Saturday as the company’s cruise ship Bremen was stopped in Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, for an excursion.
According to the cruise line, a four-man armed security detail was securing the landing area in preparation for guests when out of nowhere the polar bear attacked one of the guards, inflicting non-lethal injuries that required medical attention.
“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-defence, unfortunately, it was necessary for the polar bear to be shot dead. We very much regret this incident. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is very aware of its responsibility when travelling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respects all nature and wildlife,” Hapag-Lloyd said.
In its statement, the cruise operator provided the following account of the incident:
“The incident occurred when the four-person polar bear guard team, who are always on board for these expedition cruises as required by law, prepared for a shore leave. One of the guards was unexpectedly attacked by a polar bear that had not been spotted and he was unable to react himself. As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defence and to protect the life of the attacked person. The injured person was immediately provided with medical care and flown to a hospital with a rescue helicopter. We are in personal, direct contact with him. His condition is stable and he remains responsive.”
Despite its explanation, the cruise line was intensely criticized online over the incident, with many calling for a boycott of the company.
“‘Let’s get too close to a polar bear in its natural environment and then kill it if it gets too close,’ Morons,” tweeted comedian Ricky Gervais. Others also accused the company of exploiting polar bears for profit.
In its statement, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises defended its shore excursion practices, insisting that they are not meant for polar bear observation.
“To illustrate the situation: Spitzbergen is a large geographical area, about one and a half times the size of Denmark. Landings are possible only in a few places; these are not there to serve the purpose of polar bear observation, on the contrary: polar bears are only observed from aboard ships, from a safe distance. To prepare for a shore leave, the polar bear guards go ashore in advance after sighting the landing site as a group and without passengers. They then set up a land station and check the area again to make sure that there are no polar bears in sight. As soon as such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately,” the company wrote on Facebook.
As of Monday, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Facebook post about the incident had over 1,000 comments, many of them negative.
The MS Bremen was built in 1990 and can hold 155 passengers and 100 crew.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises says it is working with Norwegian authorities to fully investigate the circumstances of the incident.