A French North Pole expedition was terminated prematurely by the Governor of Spitzbergen in Duvefjord near Nordaustland. The adventurers Gilles and Alexia Elkaim had planned to freeze their yacht Arktika into the ice and drift to the North Pole following in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen.

The French expedition boat Arktika in Adventfjord, after towing by Polarsyssel. Picture: Bjørn Franzen
The French expedition boat Arktika in Adventfjord, after towing by Polarsyssel. Picture: Bjørn Franzen

A French North Pole expedition was terminated by the Sysselmannen, the Governour of Svalbard, in Duvefjord on Nordaustland. The adventurers Gilles and Alexia Elkaim had planned a voyage similar to that of Fridtjof Nansen and his ship Fram in 1893-96 with their sailing boat Arktika. Their plan was to sail into the Northeast Passage and to let the boat freeze in the ice near the New Siberian Islands to then drift with the ice across the Arctic Ocean. A sledge journey to the pole itself was part of the plan of the expedition, which was scheduled to last for several years.

Seven sledge dogs were also on board the Arktika. They were planned to be used for the sleigh ride to the North Pole. Picture: Arktika/Facebook
Seven sledge dogs were also on board the Arktika. They were planned to be used for the sleigh ride to the North Pole. Picture: Arktika/Facebook

Now the expedition has come to a premature end in Spitsbergen. Bad weather, ice and engine problems had forced the Arktika to return to Nordaustland, after they had left already Kvitøya, heading further east. The ship was brought into Duvefjord on the north coast of Nordaustland to seek shelter from the weather. According to the expedition blog, the situation was difficult at times in Duvefjord due to the weather. Because of the late season with the polar night approaching and the need for further repairs, the expeditioners decided to winter in Duvefjord. However, permission for a wintering had not been obtained. Typically such permissions are not issued on short notice.

Captain Gilles Elkaim was questioned by authorities in Longyearbyen several times, his computer and i-pad were confiscated. Picture: Arktika/Facebook
Captain Gilles Elkaim was questioned by authorities in Longyearbyen several times, his computer and i-pad were confiscated. Picture: Arktika/Facebook

Captain Elkaim applied for permission from the Sysselmannen in the beginning of October. The result was a helicopter visit a few days later with officials on board who confiscated crew passports and papers. During the following days the Arktika was towed to Longyearbyen. Authorities stated technical and legal reasons for this. The expedition members, however, wrote on their Facebook site that the situation in Duvefjord had been under control and that there was no reason for being towed. In contrast strong winds made this operation rather dangerous for yacht and crew. On the other hand, they thank the crew on Polarsyssel for their friendly and professional handling of the situation.

Arktika is a well equipped yacht with state of the art electronic. She has logged about 20 000 Miles in all arctic seas including North West and North East Passage.
Arktika is a well equipped yacht with state of the art electronic. She has logged about 20 000 Miles in all arctic seas including North West and North East Passage.

Back in Longyearbyen, Gilles Elkaim was interrogated several times by authorities, his computer and i-pad were confiscated. The seven dogs on board were only allowed to leave the ship after 7 days although the local veterinarian had reported good health and all required vaccinations administered. The expedition claims to have applied for permission to take dogs to Svalbard already in July without getting a reply from the authorities. The lawyers of both parties will deal with the legal situation for some time, the expedition is at least temporarily grounded and the Arktika remains in Longyearbyen.

Source: Rolf Stange in Spitzbergen.de, Facebook site of the Arktika-Expedition, Independent Barents Observer