Icelandic New Year’s Eve parties are notorious for their ill-advised combination of copious quantities of alcohol and ample access to explosives. Yet amidst the pollution and chaos of the night, every party has a distinct, hour-long lull. The reason is the TV comedy special Áramótaskaupið, which has satirised the top news stories of the year with skits and songs since its debut on radio in the 1940s.
The Law Firm hired by fishing company Samherji to investigate the company’s alleged criminal activities in Namibia is the same one that is employed to protect Samherji’s financial interests in the country, Vísir reports. One of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, Samherji is alleged to have paid high-ranking officials in Namibia more than ISK 1 billion ($8.1m/€7.3m) since 2012 to ensure access to horse-mackerel fishing quotas in the country. Namibia’s Minister of Fisheries and Minister of Justice are currently in custody in connection with the case.
Hired before Fishrot Files were public
In anticipation of the publication of the so-called Fishrot Files, Samherji announced that Norwegian company Wikborg Rein would conduct a thorough investigation of the company’s operations in Africa. After the files were made public, the company’s CEO Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson stepped down, in part to allow Wikborg Rein to look into the matter.
The hiring of Wikborg Rein, which was already working for Samherji’s interests, was widely criticised, with many believing the company would do none other than turn in a report that showed Samherji in the best possible light. The law firm has previously defended Samherji’s interests in a case involving the detention of their ship Heinaste in Namibia, accused of illegal fishing.
Authorities rule independently
Wikborg Rein sent a detailed response to Vísir following an inquiry from the news agency, where the firm states that although such internal investigations are common, Wikborg Rein does not expect authorities or prosecutors to base their decisions in the Samherji case solely on the firm’s findings.
“So to be clear; Wikborg Rein is not conducting an external investigation following which we will produce a report that will be made public in its entirety,” the response reads in part. “We are assisting the company in investigating the matter and providing relevant authorities with the results of such fact-finding. The conclusion on whether any wrongdoing was made, and the consequences thereof, will eventually need to be made by relevant authorities.”
Unemployment on the Suðurnes peninsula in Southwest Iceland was more than double the national rate last month. While across the country, 4.1% of the labour force was registered as unemployed, in Suðurnes that rate was 8.4%, an increase of 1.1% from the previous month. The numbers come from the Directorate of Labour’s monthly report.
The Suðurnes peninsula is one of the most densely populated areas of Iceland, with a population of over 25,000, most of whom live in the town of Reykjanesbær. The region’s biggest employer is Keflavík International Airport. The bankruptcy of WOW air in March significantly reduced traffic at the airport, leading to layoffs among several airport service companies.
Unemployment affects young, foreign men
More men are unemployed in Suðurnes than women, and nearly 60% of those unemployed are foreigners. Most of those unemployed do not have a high level of education and most are young – many under 30 and the vast majority under 50 years old.
Mayor of Reykjanesbær Kjartan Már Kjartansson told Vísir the region is used to ups and downs. “Unemployment went up to 15% when the [American] army went,” he stated. “There are certainly other opportunities in employment but they have little weight compared to the airport.”
The national unemployment rate is expected to increase in December to somewhere between 4.2% and 4.4%. Hildur Jakobína Gísladóttir, the director of the Suðurnes branch of the Directorate of Labour, says the situation should change in the spring. “Tourism revs up again around March and we hope that people find work then.”
There have been no fatal accidents at sea in Iceland this year, mbl.is reports. As the year 2019 draws to a close, it could be one of a handful of years where no registered Icelandic fishermen have landed in fatal accidents.
The year 2008 was the first in Icelandic history with no fatal accidents among the country’s seafarers. It was soon followed by 2011, 2014, and both of the two years preceding this one: 2017 and 2018. Now the country is close to extending that two-year record to three.
Increased safety on the seas in a result of many factors, one of which is the training provided by the Fishermen’s Accident Prevention School, founded in 1985. Today fishermen in Iceland are required to attend continuing safety education.
The fate of over one hundred horses in Northwestern Iceland remains unknown following extreme weather conditions last week, RÚV reports. Approximately 80 horses have been confirmed dead. A veterinarian at MAST (the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority) has called the conditions unprecedented.
Nearly 80 Horses Dead
Around the country, dozens of horses kept outside during last week’s storm perished. Conditions were worst in Húnavatn counties were nearly 80 horses have died. Over 100 horses are missing. Many of the surviving horses are suffering from extreme exhaustion. For the past few days, the rescue association Blanda in Blönduós has responded to 15 calls for help involving horses.
“There was no way to reach these horses for two or three days. The horses were completely out of sight. In such conditions, there’s nothing you can do, the horses being without food or water for all this time,” Sigríður Björnsdóttir veterinarian at MAST stated. According to Sigríður, last week’s storm was the most fatal natural disaster to have befallen Iceland’s horses in decades.
“Yes, I think it’s possible to assert that. I have worked in this field for 25 years, and this is a unique event during this period, at least. We could not have expected this.”
Sigríður added that there was nothing to suggest that farmers had failed to take appropriate measures.
“These are traumatic events for the farmers, and I would like to emphasise that it’s not a matter of the farmers being unprepared. There’s nothing to suggest that. More often than not, for example, we see that a few horses have died on many farms, as opposed to many horses dying on a few farms. This is happening to experienced people. It isn’t a question of negligence. It’s simply the result of unprecedented weather conditions.”
Björnsdóttir also stated that keeping horses outside is a tradition that is unlikely to change. As there are no stables, keeping the animals inside is not an option.
Accused of Animal Cruelty Online
Ingunn Reynisdótttir, a veterinarian in Húnavatn county, says that local farmers are downhearted. Serious charges have been levelled against them over the past few days.
“The farmers are exhausted, both physically and mentally. They are just completely spent, and to make matters worse, they’ve been accused of animal cruelty on all of the media websites. I know them to be model farmers who do everything in their power for their animals.”
Magnús Ásgeir Elíasson, a farmer in West Húnavatn county who lost four horses, stated that the past few days had been incredibly tough. In an interview with the news programme Kastljós this week, Magnús said that from last Tuesday to Friday, during the storm, he had slept for only five hours as he was endeavouring to save his horses.
Tryggvi Rúnar Hauksson, another farmer in Húnavatn county who lost six horses, said that he had shed no tears over financial losses. The real damages were emotional. According to Tryggvi, local farmers had done everything in their power to save the horses.
“Horses have kept outside since this country was settled.”
As noted on the website Horses of Iceland, all around the world, most Icelandic horses are “kept outside or in open stables their whole life all year round, and only the riding horses in Iceland are usually in stables over the winter.”
According to MAST, the Icelandic horse is especially well suited to the outdoors: “The Icelandic horse has lived in Icelandic nature for centuries and is especially well suited to the outdoors all year round. The main benefit of being outside is freedom, where the horse’s natural behaviour goes unimpeded. Their physical needs are also better served outside, especially as regards physical activity, which is a basic need among horses, generally, but especially important to young horses, whose musculuskeleton systems aren’t fully formed. The horses diet is often times more diverse if they are kept outside, enabling the horses to better regulate their body temperature, as they have a thick winter coat.”
This article was updated at 11:25