Icelandic Horse Export Suspended Following Fatal Accident

Icelandic horse

Update Jan 14: Two export companies have reported that export of Icelandic horses to Liège, Belgium will resume on January 20. Icelandair Cargo has stated that while they are still ironing out the details with Liege authorities, that is indeed the case.

Export of Icelandic horses to Liège, Belgium has been suspended indefinitely following an accident caused by human error at Liege airport last month. A container with horses fell off a platform, causing severe injury to two horses and minor injuries to a third. The two badly injured horses had to be put down. Bændablaðið reported first.

Boom in Export of Icelandic Horses

The decision to halt export indefinitely will have a huge impact on Icelandic horse farmers and Icelandic horse enthusiasts in mainland Europe. By far the largest market for Icelandic horses abroad is in Germany, and all horses that are exported to that country go through Liège. Export of Icelandic horses grew by 50% in 2020 as compared to the previous year.

Around 2,000 Icelandic horses were exported to new homes abroad last year, and after Germany, their most common destinations were Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Icelandic horses fetch a fine price abroad: one prized stallion set a new record last year when he was sold to a buyer in Denmark, reportedly for tens of millions of krónur, or hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

Human Error Caused Horse Injuries

Mikael Tal Grétarsson, Export Manager at Icelandair Cargo, stated that the incident was not due to an equipment malfunction but rather to human error. “We have been transporting horses in specially-equipped containers since 1995 with similar equipment and it has been very successful,” Mikael told Bændablaðið. “We have certain procedures that we follow and our subcontractors should also follow. Then it happens that an employee in Belgium doesn’t follow work procedure, he doesn’t fasten the container sufficiently, so it falls about 50 centimetres from the platform and therefore this accident occurs. This is a human error and we had to put down two horses in consultation with their owners and a veterinarian at the site. One additional horse had minor injuries but did not need to be put down.”

According to Mikael, Belgian authorities have now suspended horse imports from Iceland and Icelandair Cargo will be required to adapt their procedure to the country’s recently-updated import regulations. “We need to better understand how we can fulfil them and have, among other things, met with [the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority] here at home to review work procedures. This is a matter of great interest to horse farmers and we take accidents like this very seriously, as we always put safety and welfare in first place.”

Read more about the Icelandic horse and its international appeal.

Icelandic Chef Awarded Michelin Star

Souvenir Restaurant, run by Icelandic chef Vilhjálmur Sigurðarson in Ghent, Belgium, has been awarded a Michelin star. Vilhjálmur has run the restaurant alongside his Belgian wife Joke Michiel since 2014. It’s a big week for the couple, who are expecting their third child in a few days.

https://www.facebook.com/souvenirrestaurant/photos/a.585305098218145/2574671619281473/?type=3&theater

“I moved to Belgium at the time to work at a restaurant here. It was meant to just be a short stopover but life took over. I met Joke and eventually I got stuck,” Vilhjálmur told Belgian newspaper HLN, describing the culinary atmosphere in Ghent as “ideal.”

“Initially we didn’t even think of coming to this ceremony since the baby is supposed to arrive this week,” Vilhjálmur confessed. “Fortunately, we came anyway.”

Souvenir’s menu is built around local vegetables and seafood. Ghent has a five other restaurants with one or more Michelin stars: Restaurant Vrijmoed, with two starts; and Restaurant Horseele, Chambre Séparée, Oak Restaurant, and Publiek with one star.

Divers Called Out to Search For Missing Belgian Tourist

Þingvallavatn

Three divers from the Coast Guard’s special operations and bomb disposal services were called out on Thursday to continue the search for a Belgian tourist whose kayak and backpack were found in Þingvallvatn lake this week, Vísir reports. The team was joined by additional ICE-SAR divers and will continue today.

Search and rescue teams have been looking for 41-year-old Björn Debecker since last weekend when his backpack and an empty boat were found in the lake. The father of two and engineer from Leuven is known to have camped in Þingvellir last Friday night but has not been seen since. An investigation into the case has led to a smaller search area. Today, the divers are only searching in the south end of the lake. Diving in the lake is difficult, as the water is very cold and some parts of the lake are up to 80 m deep.

Missing Belgian Believed to Be in Lake

Þingvallavatn

An extensive search for a foreign tourist in his 40s did not bear fruit this weekend, RÚV reports. An unmanned boat and backpack found floating on Þingvallavatn lake in Southwest Iceland suggest that the man fell into the water. Authorities will explore the possibility of diving into the lake to continue the search today.

Dozens of search and rescue volunteers searched for the man on Saturday and Sunday, finding an unmanned boat and backpack floating on Þingvallavatn yesterday. The backpack belongs to a Belgian tourist who is known to have stayed at the Þingvellir camp site on Friday night. His tent has not been found.

Windy conditions led to search teams eventually being called off yesterday. Þorvaldur Guðmundsson of ICE-SAR says the organisation may contract a diver to continue the search today near the power station at Sog river.