Icelandic Freighter Crew Victims of Cold War? Skip to content

Icelandic Freighter Crew Victims of Cold War?

By Iceland Review

Icelandic journalist Óttar Sveinsson is planning to apply for access to the Royal Navy’s documents on the sinking of an Icelandic freighter, causing the death of six men, in 1986 once the confidentiality will be lifted late next year, 30 years after the accident.

On Christmas night 1986 Icelandic freighter Suðurland sank between Iceland and Norway and six men of the 11-person crew died, three of whom drowned and three of whom died of exposure in a dingy.

The cause of the accident is unclear. The Sea Accident Investigation Board concluded at the time that the main reason for the ship going down was the unsafe stacking of the cargo, wooden barrels with salted herring, Fréttablaðið reports.

The surviving crew members never accepted that conclusion, as revealed in a documentary broadcast on Stöð 2 in late December 2014. Some of them mentioned having seen lights near the ocean surface which then disappeared.

The Mail on Sunday reported in February 1987 that a Soviet submarine had been hiding under Suðurland at the time of the accident. A submarine from the Royal Navy was reportedly under the Soviet submarine, from which a 1.8-km (1.2-mile) spying cable extended, as recounted in an article in Morgublaðið in 2006.

The theory is that the Soviet submarine accidently hit Suðurland, causing it to overturn, at which point the submarine escaped. The freighter started leaking, sinking onto the British submarine’s cable.

According to The Mail on Sunday, the British submarine was stuck on the ocean floor for 11 days until British frigates came to its rescue, blasting the wreck of the freighter, freeing the submarine but at the same time destroying the evidence.

Óttar contacted the Royal Navy at the time and, as can be heard in his recording of the telephone conversation played in the documentary, a representative of the navy confirmed that a British submarine had been in the area at the time of the accident.

However, this was later denied. Óttar is planning to apply for access to the documents via the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs once the confidentiality will be lifted.

“According to what I’ve heard and to my best knowledge, the documents are likely to be protected by confidentiality for 30 years, which means that at Christmas 2016 I will be able to look at them,” Óttar told Fréttablaðið.

Júlíus Víðir Guðnason, one of the surviving crew members, said the event becomes more difficult to live with every year. He was 23-year-old when the ship went down, a student at the Nautical College in Reykjavík and serving as a deckhand on Suðurland.

He stated that even though it would be devastating to find out that the accident had been the result of pointless war games of big-shot nations, it would also be a certain relief to find out what really happened that night.

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