Sunken WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil Into Seyðisfjörður Fjord Skip to content

Sunken WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil Into Seyðisfjörður Fjord

By Jóhann Páll Ástvaldsson

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid, despite repeated efforts to stop the leak. The Environment Agency of Iceland along with the Icelandic Coast Guard is now assessing the situation. A leak had been spotted in the fjord, and divers from the Icelandic Coast Guard confirmed the leak at the wreck site.

A leak from a different tank

A leak from one of the ship’s tanks had been closed off earlier this spring. The leak this time around was coming from a different tank, situated under the ship’s bridge. The oil leaks out of an entrance which is blocked off by rubbish as well as sediment on the ship deck. The government approved funding up to ISK 38 million ($278,000, €240,000) this spring to stop the leak. The initiative is led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The operations last spring focused on stopping the leak by placing concrete over the opening. Those operations were successful but the oil surfaced this time around found its way out of a different part of the ship.

It is believed that higher sea temperature during this time of the year can lead to increased leakage. “According to the results from the dive this spring, and the following operations, the tank did not appear to be leaking. But the leak has appeared now. The temperature of the sea has risen and it is normally then that leaks start to appear around El Grillo,” says Sigurrós Friðriksdóttir, a project manager at The Environment Agency of Iceland. When asked about the size of the leak, is it relatively small compared to the last couple of years. “No, it’s not a lot of leakages and we’ve been in contact with the port of Seyðisfjörður town due to the leak. They estimate that a lot less of oil is surfacing than in the last couple of years,” Sigurrós stated in an interview with RÚV.

Sunken WWII ship

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

El Grillo sinking in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.

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