New Westfjords Ferry Expected this Autumn

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

Regular malfunctions that have plagued the ferry Baldur, which connects West Iceland and the Westfjords, may soon be a thing of the past. RÚV reports that a replacement for the aging ferry is expected to arrive in Iceland in mid-October. The replacement ship named Rust, and like its predecessor, is from Norway.

Baldur is the only ferry that sails between West Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords. It has experienced regular breakdowns in recent years, occasionally stranding passengers at sea for hours. A journalistic investigation conducted by RÚV programme Kveikur last year found multiple safety issues on board, though many have since been rectified.

Baldur sails between Stykkishólmur, West Iceland, and Brjánslækur in the southern Westfjords, stopping at Flatey island on the way, and is a vital link for the area, particularly in winter, when many roads in the region can become impassable. Stykkishólmur Mayor Jakob Björgvin Jakobsson stated that he expected Baldur’s operator Sæferðir to ensure regular ferry trips until the new ship arrives.

Jakob stated that Rust fulfils modern safety requirements and, unlike Baldur, has a backup engine, meaning that engine failure would not strand the boat at sea. Rust is, however, smaller than Baldur, and can accommodate one fewer loaded truck. Jakob expressed his hopes that the government was arranging the construction of a new ferry that better meets the region’s needs in terms of transport and tourism.

Read more about Iceland’s ferries.

Baldur Ferry Breaks Down Again, Service May Be Suspended

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

The only ferry that sails between West Iceland and the southern Westfjords, Baldur, broke down last Saturday, stranding over 100 passengers some 250 metres from harbour for almost six hours, RÚV reports. This is not the first time the over 40-year-old ship has broken down mid-journey, and the Director of Services at Iceland’s Road and Coastal Administration says she is concerned about safety issues on board the ferry.

Baldur was built in 1979 in Norway, where it transported cars and passengers until it was purchased by Icelandic company Sæferðir around ten years ago. At the time, the company had difficulties registering the ship in Iceland, as the Icelandic Transport Authority doubted its safety. The boat was eventually registered, however, and fulfils legal safety requirements today, according to Jón Gunnar Jónsson, the Transport Authority’s current director.

Repeated breakdowns in recent years

The Road and Coastal Administration is responsible for ferry service across Breiðafjörður bay, but contracts the service out to the company Sæferðir, which owns Baldur. The ship has often had operational issues in recent years. In March 2021, it lost power in the middle of the bay, leaving its crew and passengers stranded for over 24 hours. Its most recent breakdown prior to this one occurred in February: luckily, the ship was in harbour at the time, in Stykkishólmur, West Iceland.

Hope passengers are not in immediate danger

“We are worried about the condition of the ship, but we don’t know the situation perfectly,” stated Bergþóra Kristinsdóttir, director of services at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. She stated that it was not yet clear whether there was reason to suspend ferry service at this point in time. “We are monitoring closely and are in good communication with Sæferðir, the operator, and are evaluating the situation,” she told RÚV yesterday.

Asked whether the Road and Coastal Administration believed the safety of passengers was in immediate danger, Bergþóra stated: “We hope not, but we are of course analysing and reviewing all issues. We consider this very serious, and look at this as a serious issue.”

A journalistic investigation conducted by RÚV programme Kveikur in April of this year found multiple safety issues on board Baldur. Many have since been rectified.

Baldur Sails Again But Questions On Future Of Breiðafjörður Ferry Transport Remain

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

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.

Twenty Passengers Spend Night In Breiðafjörður Ferry After Engine Failure

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur is currently adrift outside the Stykkishólmur harbour after its turbine malfunctioned midway between Flatey and Stykkishólmur, yesterday afternoon, Skessuhorn reports. Around 20 passengers, a crew of eight, six cars and a few trucks containing 80 tonnes of salmon spent the night on board in stiff winds and high waves. The ferry was towed towards the Stykkishólmur harbour and as soon as the weather subsides, towboat Fönix will bring the ferry to the harbour.

The ferry’s engine malfunctioned at half-past two yesterday afternoon. The ferry dropped its anchors to stop the boat from drifting and Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Þór headed west, as well as research vessel Árni Friðriksson. Shortly after six, Baldur was linked to Árni Friðriksson by cables, ready to tow Baldur to Stykkishólmur. Weather conditions were challenging, with wind speeds of 18 m/s. While the ferry was slowly towed towards Stykkishólmur, both Þór and Árni Friðriksson are too big to be able to get the ferry all the way to harbour.

Passengers stayed onboard the ferry throughout the night. One of the passengers, Einar Sveinn Ólafsson, told RÚV the night started poorly, with the ferry rolling severely while Árni Friðriksson tried to turn the ferry towards the wind. “Everything went flying and people were seasick and scared.  After they turned the ferry, it has been good. Many people got berths to sleep on and people were just getting up around 8.” According to Einar, the crew had a good handle on things and took good care of the passengers.

Towboat Fönix arrived during the night to tow the ferry to harbour as soon as weather permits. This morning, the ferry, along with Árni Friðriksson, Þór, and Fönix was drifting just outside Stykkishólmur.

The Baldur’s trip today was an unscheduled one to make up for the road over Klettsháls being closed due to the weather. The ferry malfunction is especially unfortunate with the road closed as that makes transportation to and from the Westfjords difficult. This affects both supplies to grocery stores in the area as well as salmon transportation from fish farms. The engine failure appears to be the same as occurred last summer when Baldur was out of commission for a couple of weeks. The municipality of Tálknafjörður has issued a statement criticising the state of affairs of transportation to the Westfjords, road conditions as well as the age and condition of the ferry servicing the route.

Screenshot from Landhelgisgæslan. A shot of the rescue operation in Breiðafjörður seen from a helicopter.