Around 300 stranded after North Pole closed for first time in 18 years

Around 300 people are stranded in Svalbard, after the North Pole was closed to visitors for the first time in 18 years over tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The seasonal camp of Barneo, from where explorers are allowed to travel to the North Pole for a brief period annually, is privately operated by Swiss and Russian entities. But the planes due to fly to the camp, established temporarily on a floating ice cap close to the North Pole, were Ukrainian.

The camp was scheduled to open on April 1, but the Ukrainian pilots and crew were not given permission to fly, a move linked to rumbling discontent over the war in eastern Ukraine, according to local media reports.

By the time a replacement plane from Canada was scrambled, weather conditions were no longer stable enough. Around 300 people are now stranded in the archipelago, where they were due to take off from Longyearbyen. Many shelled out as much as euros 20,000 (pounds 17,307) to make the trip.

Eric Larsen, a polar explorer wrote: “This is a situation where everyone loses. Each of us invested a substantial amount of time, energy and expense. It will not be easily recovered from.”

Barneo, established in 2002, lies on a shifting ice sheet in international waters, and is a privately run joint operation between the Swiss and the Russians. Every year, a team sets up the small camp on drifting ice to support explorers, scientists and ice divers

It typically opens at the beginning of April for three to four weeks but as the month draws to a close, the ice is usually no longer stable enough to support the camp or those making the trek out there.

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