Sky-High Fines for Norwegian Bank that Serviced Samherji

Boat with Samherji Logo

Norwegian bank DNB has been reprimanded by Norway’s Financial Supervisory Authority, which criticised it for failing to regulate the transactions of six companies related to Icelandic seafood magnate Samherji. The bank was fined NOK 400 million ($48.2 million/€40 million) this morning for insufficient surveillance of money laundering. Kjarninn reports that the bank will not appeal the fine.

One of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, Samherji was the centre of an international scandal in late 2019 when an investigation alleged the company’s officials had bribed the Namibian government to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds. Leaked documents suggested the company had also taken advantage of international loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

DNB Terminated Services for Samherji Following Investigation

Most of Samherji’s financial transactions were mediated by DNB, Norway’s largest bank and one-third owned by the country’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. After the Samherji investigation became public, DNB asked the fishing company for documents to clarify their business with the bank and counter allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. The documents provided by Samherji were deemed insufficient to “clear up the issues brought up by the bank,” and DNB subsequently terminated deposit and payment services for several Samherji accounts at the bank.

In December 2020, the bank announced it was facing a fine equivalent to ISK 5.7 billion for poor money laundering protection. DNB was also investigated by the Norwegian Economic Crimes Police after the Samherji documents were made public.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Randomise Vaccination to Achieve Herd Immunity Sooner

When Icelandic authorities finishing vaccination of priority groups, the general public will not be offered the jab by descending age groups, but will instead be randomly selected. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist confirmed this to today. A recently published study from deCODE genetics found that this strategy would achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 sooner than vaccinating the population from oldest to youngest.

So far 29.89% of Iceland’s population have received one or both shots of COVID-19 vaccine. While vaccination efforts got off to a slow start on December 29, they have accelerated in pace with vaccine rollout. Icelandic authorities have stated they are on target to reach their goal of vaccinating 75% of the population (with at least one dose) by the end of July.

Priority Group Seven Out of Ten Now Being Vaccinated

In Iceland, COVID-19 vaccines have been administered according to priority groups defined by the Chief Epidemiologist. The first groups were front line healthcare workers and nursing home residents, followed by the oldest demographics. Currently, inoculations are being offered to the seventh priority group: individuals of all ages with chronic illnesses. The remaining three groups are school and welfare service staff; individuals vulnerable due to social or economic factors (such as homelessness); and the general population. These groups will not be invited to inoculation in descending age groups, but randomly.

“It will be somewhat random in relation to age,” Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated. “It will also be like that when for example teachers and people in social services are called in; it won’t be divided by age groups, it won’t go down from the oldest demographic, rather it will be somewhat random. We will try to hit two birds with one stone, that is to say to reach prioritised individuals and at the same time work toward herd immunity as well as possible.”

Herd Immunity Reached Sooner By Vaccinating Young People First

A study conducted by deCODE and presented to Icelandic authorities on April 29 concluded that herd immunity would be reached fastest in Iceland if the age groups who have yet to receive vaccination would be invited from youngest to oldest, in the opposite order from what Iceland, and most other countries, have been doing.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir COVID-19 mask
deCODE genetics. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and other government ministers at the presentation of a deCODE study on vaccination against COVID-19, April 29, 2021.

Vaccinating younger people would limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus more than vaccinating older groups. “In order to limit the epidemic to 100 people (assuming strict gathering regulations remained in place) we would have to vaccinate 75% of adults,” stated Páll Melsted, one of the scientists behind the study. “But if we start by vaccinating teenagers then we get to that point after vaccinating 55%. If we are going to get to that point sooner, we should start with those who are younger. We also achieve a similar goal if we do it completely randomly. Well, maybe it would be better politically to vaccinate both downwards and randomly, but I don’t intent to promote that.”

DeCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson warned against lifting restrictions quickly before herd immunity was achieved. “I think we should stick to the restrictions and be more Catholic than the Pope for a few more weeks and then we’ll come out of this well,” he stated.

Reykjanes Eruption: Lava Fountain Reaches Height of 300 Metres

Lava spewing from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula

The ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has changed its rhythm. After more than six weeks of slow but relatively steady flow, lava is now fountaining 300 metres (984 feet) up into the air – and then not erupting at all. The flow is now alternating between ten minutes of intense activity and three minutes of almost none, in a regular pattern that began around 1.00am on Sunday, May 2, according to the Icelandic Met Office.

The pulsating behaviour could suggest a possible change in the magma’s composition, a blockage within the conduit, or a change in the inflow/outflow ratio of the magma source, according to Elísabet Pálmadóttir, Natural Hazard Specialist at the Icelandic Met Office. The fountaining lava can be seen around 30km (18.6mi) away in the Reykjavík capital area and across parts of Southwest Iceland.

The eruption is a popular site among visitors: over 63,000 have made the hike to see it since magma first broke the surface on March 19. In light of the change in activity, authorities are currently re-mapping the hazard area at the site. Visitors may be rerouted to ensure their safety from flying tephra. It’s possible that some of the fountaining lava was carried up to 300 metres (984 feet) and started a small brush fire near the expanding lava field, where smoke was seen rising from the ground.

US Tourists Return to “Safe” and Spacious Iceland

Reynisfjara - Vík - suðurland

There were few empty seats on Delta Airlines’ first scheduled flight to Iceland this year, which brought 130 – mostly vaccinated – passengers from New York to Keflavík yesterday morning. Iceland’s tourism leaders say the industry’s wheels are finally turning again. Travellers from the United States have been banned entry to Iceland throughout most of the pandemic, but as of April 6, those who are vaccinated or have COVID-19 antibodies have been permitted entry and do not have to quarantine upon arrival.

The Delta Airlines flight was the first scheduled flight from the United States in over a year, with the exception of Icelandair’s state-subsidized flights to Boston, RÚV reports. Delta is now operating daily flights between New York and Keflavík, and will begin flying from Boston and Minneapolis later this month. United Airlines will begin flying from New York in June and Chicago in July, while Air Canada plans to resume flights from Toronto in July. Icelandair currently has 11 US destinations on its roster for the coming months.

“Tourist Summer is Beginning”

“The wheels are somewhat starting to turn again,” stated Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association. “Now we see the impact of better and faster vaccination both here and in the countries around. And the interest from for example US travellers who have been vaccinated or have already had COVID-19 is significant. So I hope that now these are sort of the signs that the tourist summer is beginning.”

Jóhannes believes travellers from the US and UK will be the first to arrive, while those from mainland Europe, where vaccination has been proceeding slower, will come to Iceland later. Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason also stated the airline had seen an uptick in bookings from the US, with Europe and Canada lagging behind. “This is still a very challenging environment for airlines around the world and tourism companies, but very positive that things are somewhat starting up again,” Bogi stated.

Iceland a Safe Destination, Say Tourists

Strati Hvartos, a photographer from Los Angeles, was one of the passengers of Delta’s flight from New York yesterday. He arrived with his girlfriend Caroline Fiorito, and they plan to spend two weeks in Iceland. “I think we chose Iceland cause it seemed like the best place to go right now, after COVID,” Strati told Vísir reporters. “It seemed like one of the safer places to go, and also one of the least amount of tourists right now.”