It is really comforting to climb into the cab on Grete Aabrekk’s Volvo truck and be surrounded by warmth. She has just backed her truck into the loading point at the mouth of the Svea Mine. The conveyor belt here discharges thousands of tonnes of coal every day.
A Volvo L350 wheel loader
digs down into the growing pile of coal and lifts a load onto Grete’s flat bed, which can carry 45 cubic metres – or 40 tonnes – of coal at a time. After the swift loading process, Grete drives five kilo - metres to the storage point at the quay, where the coal will stay until May. When the Global team met Grete Aabrekk, it was November and the last coal ship for the season, which was on its way to the mine, had recently been forced to turn back without completing its mission. The ice had already started to form so far out to sea that there was a risk that the ship would be caught at Svalbard for the winter. This would have been an expensive business for a panmax ship that can carry 270 tonnes on each trip.
The polar nights have already arrived at Svalbard, the most northerly inhabited part of the world. It will now be dark 24 hours a day until March. However, this does not affect activity at the mine or transport on land.
“The price of coal is currently skyrocketing again, so we must all make sure that production is in full swing the whole time,” says Grete Aabrekk, as she backs confidently up the incredibly steep slope at the storage quay and discharges her load. A bulldozer moves the whole of the new pile in a single movement. The machines and trucks that work in the dark and the ice-cold conditions are really powerful. As Grete travels back to the pick-up point, our breath is knocked out of us by the vibrations in the large vehicle and we understand exactly what workshop manager Tom Johansen means a few minutes later, when he says that worn-through electric cables are one of the most common problems in these trucks.
“It’s all the shaking,” he says. “The cables rub against one another and this can cause short circuits.” There is also a large turnover of windscreens. “There are so many flying stones when the trucks operate in shuttle traffic and meet one another on the rough roads.”