Deep North Episode 41: Jón the India-Traveller

Útivera Ganga Náttúra Gengið frá Aðalvík að Hesteyri og til baka

On a bright May morning in 1679, an 85-year-old widower passed away in his sleep after a long illness. He had lived a full life and was loved and highly respected, well satisfied with his long life and fortuitous relationship with his God. As the burden of age weighed on him ever more, Jón Ólafsson of Eyrardalur farm, situated in Álftafjörður in the Westfjords, had given up his daily chores as a farmer and dedicated his remaining time to educating young people in reading and writing full time. Throughout his long life, Jón Ólafsson was known as more than a faithful Christian, farmer, and beloved teacher. In a time before television, radio or even printing presses – when even dancing was illegal – 17th-century Icelanders craved a well-told story. He was a storyteller without equal; he was Jón Ólafsson, the “India Traveller.”

Read the story here.

14 Pilots Exit Play for Icelandair Amid Global Talent Scramble

iceland budget airline play

Fourteen pilots from budget airline Play have resigned to join competitor Icelandair amid a global pilot shortage and rising wages. While acknowledging the challenge of retaining pilots, Play insists that the departures won’t impact operations and emphasizes its ongoing efforts to offer competitive salaries and benefits.

Hiring and retaining pilots a challenge

Fourteen pilots from budget airline Play have tendered their resignations after receiving job offers from industry competitor Icelandair, according to a press release from Play this morning, Vísir reports. The airline highlights a global shortage and fierce competition for qualified pilots, acknowledging that this has inflated salaries and complicated recruitment efforts.

‘Earlier this summer, it became apparent that rising wages due to competition would make it challenging to hire and retain pilots. As a result, we initiated an internal review of our pilot salaries and working conditions,” the press release noted.

Yesterday, news broke that Icelandair approached Play’s pilots with swift job offers, compelling them to make immediate decisions. “PLAY was not privy to the details of the offers due to the customary confidentiality between parties, but we received 14 resignations from pilots yesterday. While it’s always painful to lose valued team members, these departures will not significantly impact our operations or flight schedules,” the press release added.

Vísir reported yesterday that 18 pilots from Play were directly approached by Icelandair. In response, Play convened a meeting with these pilots on Wednesday evening.

According to Turisti.is, Play pilots earn a base salary of ISK 590,000 ($4,500 / €4,200), significantly lower than Icelandair’s ISK 860,000 ($6,500 / €6,000); Play subsequently offered their pilots a substantial salary increase yesterday, Vísir reports.

Complex factors in wage dynamics

In its press release, Play emphasised that pilot compensation is multifaceted and not easily comparable to other professions. “Recent reports, which are baseless, suggest this will dramatically affect our cost structure … but the impact on unit costs is negligible,” the press release clarified.

Play also took the opportunity to underscore its consistent efforts to improve employee compensation and conditions, extending beyond pilots to include flight attendants and other staff. “We would not have been able to retain our workforce if our packages were egregiously uncompetitive, as is sometimes insinuated,” the release noted.

The airline touted its role in generating approximately 550 new jobs in Iceland’s labour market within just over two years, and its contribution to reviving tourism and reducing travel costs. “Moving forward, Play is committed to offering competitive conditions to attract and retain top-tier talent as we build a company of which we can all be proud,” the statement concluded.

Swiss Traveler Says Final Goodbye to Beloved Icelandic Haven

Þingvellir

After nine summers of retreats to Þingvallavatn Lake, Swiss psychiatrist Anne Glantz has decided to end her annual visits. Glantz, now eighty, told RÚV yesterday that she would be leaving with a sense of peace and gratitude for her experiences.

Nine memorable summers

Last evening marked Anne Glantz’s final night by Þingvallavatn Lake in southwestern Iceland. Over the course of nine summers, she has forged a connection with the local fauna – loons, geese, and even a mythical lady whom she believes resides in the water.

Glantz plans to depart from Þingvellir with a heart full of gratitude for the friendships she’s formed with its natural inhabitants.

Not at all uncomfortable

In Switzerland, Glantz is a well regarded psychiatrist specialising in oncology. She continues to work during the winter months.

For each of the past nine summers, she’s driven to Denmark and taken the Norröna ferry to Iceland. Her destination has always been the same: the picturesque banks of Þingvallavatn Lake, where she encamps from June through August, comfortably so.

“Not at all uncomfortable,” she told RÚV yesterday. “My tent is spacious and cosy, equipped with quality mattresses and sleeping bags. I actually sleep better here than in my own bed.”

A spiritual connection

Never once has Glantz sought refuge in a hotel, despite occasionally challenging weather conditions.

Though she has family in Switzerland – including children and grandchildren – and is widowed, she’s pulled to Lake Þingvellir each summer.

“It defies articulation – it’s more of an emotional pull. This feels like where my roots are,” she reflected. “The serenity of nighttime, the aroma of foliage, and the symphony of bird calls create an environment where I am profoundly at ease.”

A fitting goodbye

Having recently turned eighty, Glantz has decided it’s time to cease her annual pilgrimages to Iceland. Last night was her final stay in the tent.

“In the beginning, the idea of this being my last visit filled me with sadness. I spent hours contemplating by the lakeside, eventually finding peace in the realisation that everything has its season. I’ve now achieved a sense of peace, and I am immensely thankful.”

Lifelong memories

Over the years, Glantz has cultivated friendships in Iceland with not just humans, but also various bird species and even a family of geese residing on the lake. As she prepares to leave, she intends to take these cherished memories with her.

“All of this,” she indicated, sweeping her hand across the tranquil water. “I’ll carry the quietude and love with me. And – I hope it’s alright to say – I’ve spoken to a mysterious lady believed to dwell in the lake. Her presence is captivating and beautiful. These memories are etched in my heart, reinvigorating me for the remaining chapters of my life.”

True North Demands Injunction Against Whaling Company

whale Iceland hvalur

True North, an Icelandic film and TV production company, has filed for an injunction against Hvalur hf, Iceland’s sole fin whale hunting organisation, Vísir reports. The legal move comes on the heels of Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision to lift the whaling ban yesterday.

Challenging to secure international collaborations

True North, a prominent Icelandic production company in the television and film industry, has filed for an injunction against the whaling company Hvalur hf to halt its hunting of fin whales, Vísir reports; yesterday, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced that the government would be lifting the temporary whaling ban with more stringent regulations being imposed.

Legal counsel for True North, attorney Katrín Oddsdóttir of the Réttur law firm, argues that for Hvalur hf to continue to engage in whaling will make it increasingly challenging, if not unfeasible, to secure international collaborations for projects in Iceland.

Reputational and ecological concerns

True North bases its case on multiple fronts. Firstly, the company highlights its heavy reliance on international partnerships. A recent statement from 67 international film industry professionals – including actors, directors, and writers – asserts they will cease bringing projects to Iceland if Hvalur resumes its hunting of fin whales.

Additionally, True North cites ecological and ethical concerns, such as the negative impact of whaling on the ocean’s carbon sequestration capabilities. The company also cites reports indicating that a third of the whales caught by Hvalur in 2022 endured prolonged suffering. True North also references findings from a council on animal welfare specialists and a report from Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s working group, published this week, which evaluated measures to minimise such suffering during fishing operations.

According to True North, the stakes extend beyond financial considerations; the reputational integrity of Iceland’s artistic fields is also in jeopardy, a loss that cannot be offset by monetary compensation.

Finally, the production company contends that Hvalur hf’s activities contravene hygiene and pollution control laws. These violations pose a risk to food safety, as they involve the hunting, harvesting, and processing of animal products intended for human consumption. Moreover, the water source located above Hvalur hf’s whaling station fails to comply with drinking water regulations and lacks proper planning.

Samskip Fined ISK 4.2 Billion for Violating Competition Laws

Moving trucks

The Competition Authority of Iceland has imposed an ISK 4.2 billion ($32 million / €30 million) fine on shipping company Samskip for serious violations of competition laws. Samskip strongly disputes the charges and plans to appeal, questioning the Authority’s methods and criticising Eimskip’s earlier settlement in the seven-year-long investigation.

“Incorrect, misleading, and insufficient” information

The Competition Authority has levied an ISK 4.2 billion ($32 million / €30 million) administrative fine against the shipping company Samskip, citing serious violations of competition laws, RÚV reports. According to the Authority, the company “provided incorrect, misleading, and insufficient” information over the course of the investigation. The same applies to the company’s disclosure of documents.

The case centres on the illegal collusion of Samskip and Eimskip, another major player in the shipping industry. While Eimskip had settled their part of the case in 2021 for a considerably smaller ISK 1.5 billion ($11 million / €11 million) fine, Samskip has been slapped with a considerably larger penalty.

A seven-year investigation reveals extensive violations

As noted by RÚV, the probe into these activities was initiated in the fall of 2013 when searches were conducted at Samskip and Eimskip offices, followed by a second round of searches the subsequent summer. The violations, according to the Competition Authority, spanned five years, from 2008 to 2013, involving a litany of anti-competitive practices, such as:

  • Coordinating changes in shipping systems and limiting transport capacity.
  • Dividing markets based on large customers in sea and land transport.
  • Colluding on the imposition of fees and discount terms.
  • Sharing of sensitive pricing and business information.
  • Collaborating on specific transport routes within Iceland and international sea transport.

The Competition Authority minced no words in its judgement, declaring Samskip’s actions “serious and extensive,” especially as they occurred “in markets where the participants of the collusion had a dominant position.”

Hörður Felix Harðarsson, Samskip’s legal representative, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome. “We are disappointed with both the investigation and the results. The only option now is to appeal to the Competition Appeals Committee. We strongly believe that neither the charges nor the fine amount can withstand scrutiny,” Hörður told RÚV yesterday. Hörður also indicated that court action is on the table if the appeals committee doesn’t render a satisfactory verdict.

Managers face legal repercussions, authority’s tactics questioned

Upon the revelation that Eimskip was negotiating a settlement, Samskip also sought a similar resolution. However, talks disintegrated after the Competition Authority determined the dialogue would not yield fruitful outcomes. The authority has also referred complaints against specific employees of both companies to the district prosecutor’s office three times – in 2014, 2016, and 2018 – further complicating the legal landscape.

“During the prosecutor’s investigation, two managers from Samskip and two from Eimskip were accorded the legal status of a defendant. The probe remains incomplete,” the Competition Authority’s report adds.

Samskip condemns Eimskip’s settlement

In an official statement, Samskip blasted both the Competition Authority’s investigative tactics and Eimskip’s amicable settlement.

“It raises significant ethical questions when a dominant market player can essentially use its financial resources to sidestep additional legal scrutiny. Equally concerning is the prospect that the overwhelming influence of regulatory bodies could pressure a company into pleading guilty and paying a substantial fine, all without concrete evidence – essentially forgoing the chance to present a fact-based defence before higher judicial authorities or the courts.”

Samskip alleges that the Competition Authority’s rigorous probe has severely impaired its operations and staff morale.

“The Competition Authority has overstepped its bounds in both the scope of its investigation and its data collection methods. The conclusions reached are entirely disconnected from the facts on the ground. Accusations are being levied without the support of concrete evidence, relying instead on conjectures and theories. These theories are often underpinned by blatant misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the data and the true circumstances of the case.”

The company emphasised that it had no intention of accepting the verdict as it stands and is committed to pursuing all available legal avenues to have the decision overturned.