Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur sailed again yesterday after being out of commission for five days following an engine failure in the middle of its route across the fjord. The ferry’s operator has since made changes to its operation procedure, giving captains greater power to cancel ferry trips due to weather or sailing conditions. The ferry is vital for transportation to and from the Westfjords and both companies and Westfjords residents have called for action to ensure ferry transportation to and from the southern part of the west fjords is reliable.
Last week, the ferry broke down during its passage across the Breiðafjörður fjord, trapping passengers onboard for 27 hours. The ferry was towed to harbour in Stykkishólmur once the weather settled. While passengers were never in grave danger, it was an uncomfortable night and highlighted issues in transportation that Westfjord residents have long fought to rectify.
This is the second time in less than a year that the ferry breaks down due to a turbine failure. According to ferry operator Sæferðir’s press release, “experts are looking into how best to react to such an accident, which hopefully won’t happen again. We at Sæferðir will institute sailing guidelines such as are widely in place abroad. That means that in certain weather and sailing conditions, the ferry won’t sail, according to the company’s discretion. Additionally, the captain will have the power of cancelling ferry trips even if conditions are deemed favourable according to the guidelines. Captains will have the full support of the company if they wish to cancel trips on grounds of weather- or sailing conditions.”
The road connecting the southern part of the Westfjords to the mainland is a precarious one and liable to close over the winter, making ferry transportation a vital connection to the mainland. For instance, the ferry trip in question was an additional tour as the road over Klettsháls was closed due to the weather. Onboard were trucks containing salmon from the Arnarfjörður fish farms but during the ferry outage, the company had to postpone slaughtering as there was no way to get its products safely to markets.
Mayor of Vesturbyggð municipality Rebekka Hilmarsdóttir told RÚV that the ferry outage was unsettling for the people in the area. Locals worry that this might happen again and the community and industry in the area have a lot riding on safe transportation to and from the area. An end to a decades-long struggle over road construction in Gufudalssveit will improve the land route somewhat, but that still leaves the road over Klettsháls, which was closed due to weather 40 inconsecutive days last winter. When the roads close, the west fjords are like an island and residents rely on the ferry for supplies and transportation.
In addition to transportation reliability issues, the current ferry is too small and can’t carry all goods that need transportation across the fjord, so producers in the area also have to send their wares the land route when the roads are open. Rebekka is adamant that a double engine ferry is vital, as the current single-engine ferry has no backup in case of accidents like the one last week.
Parliament’s Industrial Affairs Committee issued a declaration on the necessity of securing ferry transport to and from the Westfjords, challenging the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration to rectify the situation. According to committee Chair Lilja Rafney Magnúsdóttir, the committee unanimously states that secure ferry transportation is the key to industrial growth in the Westfjords as well as residents’ safety. “We challenger the IRCA to look into the possibility of using Herjólfur III (the Vestmannaeyjar islands ferry) or to find alternative ways until a new ferry brings a long-term solution.” The possibility of temporarily using the Vestmannaeyjar ferry in Breiðafjörður has also been broached by Vestmannaeyjar locals, wishing to repay the people of the Westfjords the favour of borrowing Baldur when their ferry was out of commission.