Hvalur Files Claim Against Icelandic State Over Whaling Ban

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, citing significant financial losses due to a temporary whaling ban imposed by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir last year. The claim, supported by the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s conclusion that the ban lacked legal basis, seeks compensation for the company and its employees.

A right to claim damages

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, asserting that the decision to temporarily ban the hunting of fin whales last year — which was made by Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir — had resulted in substantial revenue loss and financial expenditures, RÚV reports.

The claim was sent to the State’s Attorney after the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded that the decision by the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries to temporarily suspend whaling last year was not legally sound; Svandís’s ban took effect on June 20, 2023, and remained in place until September 1 of the same year.

In line with the Ombudsman’s findings

The claim begins by noting that Hvalur hf. had lodged a complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding the drafting and implementation of regulation that barred the start of whaling in the summer of 2023. The claim subsequently cites the Ombudsman’s opinion on the matter, wherein the former concluded that the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries lacked a sufficiently clear legal basis for the regulation to be considered valid.

In light of this, Hvalur hf. believes it has a right to claim damages from the Icelandic state for any financial losses incurred due to the ban. The claim acknowledges that any costs saved while the ban was active, particularly in labour expenses, should be considered for deduction.

The claim further notes that the Akranes Trade Union (Verkalýðsfélag Akraness) had declared that the employees of Hvalur had wage claims against the company for the period during which the ban was in effect. Similarly, the Association of Ship Captains (Félag skipstjórnamanna) voiced the same position for its union members.

Therefore, Hvalur considers it most practical for the Icelandic state to compensate the company’s employees and other affected parties in line with their income losses. The claim also asks for talks with the Icelandic state to settle this compensation based on the stated reasons.

Third-party assessment

Lastly, the claim suggests that the Icelandic state and Hvalur could agree on a third party to evaluate the company’s damages through an out-of-court expert assessment. However, this agreement would not be legally binding for either Hvalur or the Icelandic state.

Whaling Suspension Inauspicious for Coalition Partnership

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

In a panel discussion on Vísir yesterday, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that the temporary ban on whaling was inauspicious for the partnership between the coalition parties. A legal opinion commissioned by Fisheries Iceland has concluded that the decision to temporarily halt whaling goes against the law.

“A huge political decision”

Yesterday morning, the leaders of the three governing parties were invited to a panel discussion on Vísir. The leaders discussed the recently released report on the sale of Íslandsbanki; the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries’ decision to stop whaling; and immigration affairs.

Regarding the suspension of whaling, Bjarni Benediktsson stated that the decision had surprised him: “We’ve been clear in our conviction that the decision should be reconsidered.”

Bjarni emphasised that the issue did not simply revolve around economic or animal welfare issues; there was a tradition of whaling in Iceland and putting an end to it amounted to “a huge political decision.” Bjarni noted that the decision, as a political issue, should have gone before the parliament. “I think it’s a very strange turn of events that it happens like this a day before whaling was supposed to start.”

Bjarni also noted that, during the formation of the coalition government, the three parties had discussed whether an agreement could be reached on putting an end to whaling – but no such agreement was reached. “When whaling is stopped in this manner, I am alarmed; I am not satisfied.”

A difference of opinion

Bjarni further noted that the position of the Left-Green Movement was that whales should not be hunted; the Left-Green Movement believed that it was inhumane to kill whales so it was not exactly the methodology that was at issue. “I have a feeling it’s not just about the whaling methods; I have a feeling it’s about whaling itself.”

“How are you going to consider the welfare of a whale you’re going to kill?” Bjarni asked.

Finally, the Finance Minister did not rule out the possibility that the whaling issue would affect the partnership of the coalition parties. When the panel’s moderator, Heimir Már Pétursson, asked if the issue would affect the continuation of the government cooperation, Bjarni refused to say. “But I don’t think this is particularly auspicious for our partnership in governance.”

Stands with Svandís’s decision

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responded to Bjarni’s comments by saying that she stood by Svandís’ decision. “First of all, these three parties have different views on whaling. Regardless, the minister received a formal opinion from a professional council on animal welfare. Having received this opinion, it would have been almost impossible for the minister not to act.”

Legal opinion finds the ban “unconstitutional”

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland (SFS), discussed a legal opinion that SFS recently commissioned from the law firm LEX.

Heiðrún stated that the legal opinion had found that Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision to temporarily stop whaling was unlawful. Heiðrún called for further justification from the Minister.

“We have said from the beginning that this unceremonious and unprecedented decision by the minister goes against the law, and now there is a legal opinion that substantiates our claim,” Heiðrún told RÚV.

“The legal opinion confirmed that the minister went against the freedom of employment and property rights provisions of the constitution; went against proportionality; went against the so-called code of governance; and, during the conduct of the council of specialists, the provisions of the administrative law were not followed.”

When asked if SFS intended to take the case further, Heiðrún replied that she hoped that the opinion would lead to the minister providing a more thorough explanation of her legal rationale. Over a week ago, SFS requested documents detailing the basis of the decision.

“We still haven’t received any word on these documents. As a result, I’m concerned that the preparation of this decision was poor and reprehensible, which is why it’s imperative for a well-reasoned legal opinion to be published in support of the minister’s far-reaching decision.”

Collectors Critical of Proposed Amendment to Weapons Act

guns

A new bill sponsored by the Minister of Justice has been criticised by firearms collectors, RÚV reports. The bill – an amendment to the weapons act – repeals an exemption on the importation of semi-automatic and automatic weapons even if said weapons are being imported as collectables.

Repealing an exemption on “collectable weapons”

On February 28, the Ministry of Justice posted a draft of an amendment to the weapons act on the government’s online consultation portal. The ministry referred to the bill as part of “a necessary revision to the law,” which, among other things, proposes to repeal an exemption on the importation of so-called “collectable weapons” that may include semi-automatic and automatic firearms.

A total of 45 comments – most of them authored by collectors, firearms enthusiasts, and marksmen – were received in regard to the proposed amendment (comments were closed last March); gun collectors complained that their ability to collect firearms was going to be severely limited if the amendment was passed.

Read More: What Kind of Gun Laws Exist in Iceland

“I think it goes without saying that the regulations need to be tightened and that acquiring these weapons is made more difficult – in addition to making increased demands of dealers – but to completely ban importation without any solid reasoning smacks of authoritarianism,” one commentator noted.

Guðjón Agnarsson, who operates the gunship Byssusmiðja Agnars alongside his father, told RÚV that he disproved of the bill: “It’s primarily the fact that the selection of remarkable and historic guns that can be imported to Iceland is being limited,” Guðjón told RÚV.

On the heels of the domestic terror plot

As previously noted, the importation of semi-automatic and automatic firearms will be prohibited if the amendment passes – even if said weapons are considered collectables. WWII enthusiasts would, therefore, no longer be able to import the famous Luger pistol or the Walther PPK.

“The Luger is one of the biggest and most popular collectable guns, and then, of course, the Walther PPK, the pistol with which Hitler shot himself. It would be nice to have one like that,” the aforementioned Guðjón Agnarsson told RÚV. He and his father have requested a meeting with the Minister of Justice in order to discuss the bill and convey the views of the collectors.

As noted by RÚV, the Minister of Justice’s bill was introduced following the so-called domestic terrorism case; the defendants in the case – accused, and later acquitted, of plotting a domestic terrorism attack in Iceland – had hoarded numerous weapons, including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components, alongside a considerable amount of ammunition.

The father of the National Police Commissioner – a well-known firearms dealer, who operates the website www.vopnasali.is – was entangled in the case.

Landowners Announce Hiking Ban on Popular Mt. Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Landowners of Mt. Kirkjufell have announced a winter hiking ban, RÚV reports. The aim of the ban, which takes effect today, is to ensure the safety of travellers and first responders; three deaths have occurred on the mountain over the past four years.

Ill prepared and oblivious to danger

On Saturday, November 5, landowners of the property on which Mt. Kirkjufell is situated met with the mayor and planning officer of Grundarfjörður alongside representatives from first responders and the Icelandic Tourist Board. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a response to the sharp rise in travellers and the numerous serious accidents that have been suffered during hikes up the mountain (including three deaths over the past four years).

This morning, the landowners sent a press release to various media outlets announcing that all hiking on the mountain would be banned, starting today, November 8. The press release noted, however, that hikers would be allowed to hike up the mountain in June of next year when nesting season had concluded. Signs will be installed on hiking paths and in the parking lot near Kirkjufellsfoss to relay this information.

Arrowhead Mountain attracts visitors

As noted in an article in RÚV, Mt. Kirkjufell became one of Iceland’s most popular attractions after appearing in the TV series Game of Thrones (as Arrowhead Mountain). Since then, a growing number accidents and deaths “necessitate increased safety measures,” according to property owners. Vegetation on the mountain has also suffered due to the number of hikers, which imposes a further threat to safety.

According to the press release, the property owners have noticed that many foreign travellers seem oblivious to the dangers of hiking up the mountain: “they hike up without the proper gear and in dangerous conditions.” Most of the accidents occur during fall or winter when conditions are the most difficult, which in turn endangers the safety of response parties, dispatched in the event of accidents.

The landowners concluded their statement by entreating everyone in the tourist and information business to remind travellers not to hike up Mt. Kirkjufell during winter. “These measures are taken with everyone’s safety in mind.”

Bill to Ban Oil Exploration to Be Resubmitted

Minister of the Environment Guðlaugur Þór Guðlaugsson has announced that he will resubmit a bill to Parliament banning oil exploration within Iceland’s exclusive economic zone, RÚV reports. The ban is “fully consistent with the government’s climate policy,” says the minister.

Focusing on green, Icelandic energy

Last spring, Minister of the Environment Guðlaugur Þór Guðlaugsson submitted a bill to Parliament banning oil exploration within Iceland’s exclusive economic zone. The bill was in line with the ruling parties’ government agreement, which stipulated that the authorities would not grant any oil-exploration licences (while also setting a few climate-related goals, among them Iceland becoming carbon-neutral by 2040).

Although the bill was not voted on prior to Parliament’s summer hiatus, the minister has now announced his intention of resubmitting the bill this fall, RÚV reports. The ban will not only extend to oil exploration within Iceland’s exclusive economic zone but will also ban all research and oil and gas processing in the area. The bill implies revisions to several Icelandic laws.

When asked by RÚV whether eliminating this option during the energy crisis in Europe was wise, the minister responded thusly: “This option would not solve our current problems. Any benefit from oil exploration would not be felt in a matter of years – but decades. We do, however, need energy, and we’ve got it. We know how to generate energy, by which I’m referring to geothermal heat, hydroelectric power, and other alternatives.”

As noted by RÚV, the history of oil exploration in Iceland is relatively brief, having mostly been focused on the so-called “Dragon Zone” to the northeast of Iceland. The first oil-exploration licences were granted in 2012. Three companies were granted licences, all three of which have since relinquished them (the last of which in 2018).

The minister clarified that any criticism of the bill, which was “perfectly natural,” stemmed mainly from the observation that Europe, and the world at large, was facing an energy crisis – but that that energy was needed quickly.

“Those countries with which we like to compare ourselves – not just because of climate change but also because they’re trying not to rely on Russia – are trying to find [cleaner solutions fast], which is why our focus is, first and foremost, on green Icelandic energy.”

In a “prime position”

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the bill during her keynote speech before Parliament, observing that Iceland was in a “prime position” to transition to greener sources of energy for the sake of public and planetary good, by ensuring, among other things, that energy companies owned by the Icelandic government would not be sold.

“A bill will be submitted that will ban oil exploration in Iceland’s exclusive economic zone. It’s important that this bill be passed for it offers a clear message to the world: Iceland intends to do its part when it comes to the greatest challenge of our time; we are driving full-speed ahead out of the carbon economy – and into a new, green economy,” Katrín stated.

Nicotine Products to Be Banned in Schools

A new parliamentary bill by Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson recommends the addition of nicotine products (including nicotine pouches) to a law on e-cigarettes and e-liquids, Vísir reports. The aim of the bill is to decrease the use of nicotine pouches by children and young adults.

Flavours appealing to children to be banned

In a new parliamentary bill, Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson proposes an amendment to Act No. 87/2018 on Electronic Cigarettes and Refill Containers for Electronic Cigarettes. Among changes to the legislation is a ban on the import, manufacture, and sale of nicotine products and e-cigarettes containing flavours that may appeal to children (such as candy and fruit).

According to a report appended to the bill, the purpose of the ban is to decrease the use of nicotine products among children and young adults: research has shown that flavouring, especially fruit and candy, play a significant role in the popularity of e-cigarettes among children and young adults.

“It is logical to assume that the same holds for the popularity of nicotine pouches,” the report notes.

Banning nicotine products in educational institutions

The new bill also proposes a ban on the sale of nicotine products in preschools, elementary schools, junior colleges, and other educational facilities associated with sports, daycare, recreation, and social events for children and young adults. Universities are not included on the list.

The bill places particular emphasis on educating children and young adults within elementary and junior colleges on the risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes and nicotine products; and on educating responsible parties in pedagogy, education, and healthcare.

Advise Against Domestic Travel This Easter: “Don’t Do It”

Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson and Director of the National University Hospital of Iceland Páll Matthíasson have advised against domestic travel this Easter, RÚV reports. The more travellers on the road, the higher the risk of accidents, which could increase the stress on an already strained healthcare system.

Won’t hesitate to take action

During a daily press briefing yesterday, Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson encouraged residents to stay at home during Easter – a popular travel weekend in Iceland – as opposed to spending a long weekend at countryside cottages. Speaking anecdotally, Víðir mentioned that a few of his snowmobiling friends had agreed to stay put this Easter and make do with merely “polishing their vehicles” over the holidays. “We will not, however, hesitate to take action,” Víðir said, revealing that the authorities were considering a ban on cottage trips. Other Nordic countries have taken similar action.

Although the latest figures on COVID-19 are a cause for optimism, Víðir stressed that it was important to avoid complacency. The achievements of the past few days were the result of strict measures. Víðir went on to compare the epidemic to a long-distance race that was half-finished. “The coming days will be a test of our collective endurance.”

Avoiding other major accidents

Páll Matthíasson, Director of the National University Hospital of Iceland, emphasised the importance of shielding the hospital from major accidents, as the healthcare system was already under considerable strain. All available energy was focused on the epidemic. Having heard that many residents were planning trips to the countryside to spend the holidays in cottages, Páll responded: “That’s a bad idea. Don’t do it.”

Vulnerable healthcare areas

As outlined during the press briefing, there are several reasons why the authorities recommend residents stay at home this Easter: if individuals gather in the countryside in high numbers, it could put significant stress on vulnerable rural healthcare areas; furthermore, there is the risk of carelessness in new environments. Residents have learned to eschew handshaking and respect the so-called two-metre rule (social distancing), but such behaviours could quickly be unlearned in cottages.

Víðir concluded by saying that the authorities would not hesitate to take action, emphasising that the coronavirus has an incubation period of 7 to 14 days. If action needed to be taken, it would likely occur over the next few days: “We are greatly worried; we’re not out of the woods yet.”