A German cruise line has come under fire after one of its guards killed a polar bear during a tourist encounter when the animal suddenly attacked a cruise employee.
The employee was leading tourists off a ship on an Arctic archipelago near a natural polar bear habitat. Norwegian authorities have defended the shooting, saying it was a life-saving measure.
The attack took place Saturday after the MS Bremen cruise ship, operated by the German Hapag Lloyd Cruises company, landed on the most northern island of the Svalbard archipelago, a region located between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the Joint Rescue Coordination for Northern Norway.
In a lengthy statement posted to Facebook, Hapag Lloyd Cruises said 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 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," the statement said. "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."
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW
Norwegian authorities on Monday said guards tried to scare the animal away -- to no avail.
Police spokesman Ole Jakob Malmo told the Associated Press that two members of the 12-man crew that set foot on land ahead of tourists first tried to ward off the bear "by shouting and making loud noises as well as firing a signal pistol, but to no effect."
A 42-year-old German man who was not identified sustained minor head injuries from the attack, Malmo said.
The incident sparked outrage on Twitter, with many critical of the guard's actions.
"Let's get too close to a polar bear in its natural environment and then kill it if it gets too close. Morons," British actor and comedian Ricky Gervais wrote.
Jane Roberts, a genealogist, wondered why the cruise even needed make a stop.
"Maybe cruise sightseeing tours shouldn’t take place then polar bear 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?" she wrote.
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.
The archipelago is dotted with warnings about polar bears, and 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 the 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.