US, British, German and Australians not permitted ashore in the remote Bay of Providence.
The tourists, on the luxury cruise ship Silver Discoverer, were prevented from disembarking at Provideniya – a former Soviet military port, sited on a fjord sheltered from the Bering Sea – amid claims of an order from Moscow.
Despite hints that the wealthy passengers – many in their 70s – may have become victims of the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis, the reason why they were ordered to remain on their vessel remains unclear.
Alexey Frolov, general director of ‘Pacific Network’ that organised the tour from the Russian side, said: ‘The majority of our guests are from America. All of the tourists have visas and the cruise was agreed with the government of Russia.
‘But none of the passengers can go ashore because the border authorities do not permit them to do so. Allegedly there was an order from Moscow not to let the foreigners off the boat.
‘The foreigners who are on average 70 to 75 years old spent all day long on board.
‘All of them have tourist visas to Russia, all of them have entry stamps into Russia, but the local FSB denied them access to the area’.
The FSB press service for the Chukotka autonomous region – where famous tycoon Roman Abramovich was once governor – contradicted him and told Lenta.ru that the passengers lacked the necessary paperwork.
The same office told LifeNews website that the border authorities acted according to the law, as there were no permits issued for the visitors.
The vessel had applied for permission to leave the waters of Russian Federation, which meant that the programme for the tourists was cut from four days to one.
Silver Discoverer – run by operators Silversea – is famed for its adventure cruises to exotic locations.
Chukotka – the part of the Siberian land mass almost touching Alaska – has the status of a border zone and there are certain limitations for foreigners.
Irina Nekrashevich who is in charge of legal affairs for foreign cruises, told LifeNews. ‘By law we have to apply for passes into the border zone 60 days ahead of the planned visit date.
‘We did submit the documents on time, but the passengers were told that they were refused access to Chukotka sites only at the point of arrival at Providence Bay.’
Irina Ryabukhina, head of the Chukotka Sport and Tourism committee, said: ‘The region has not been told why that order appeared.’