Iceland News Review: New Names, a Controversial Law, and More

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we dig into a rocky start for the government, some intriguing findings following a controversial law, the return of an iconic bird and more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

In Focus: Cruise Ships

cruise ship iceland

Small town Iceland isn’t what it used to be. During the peak summer season, some of Iceland’s coastal communities are bustling with cruise ship tourists, overwhelming local residents many times over. For some, these tourists represent an injection of cosmopolitan vitality into otherwise small, sleepy towns. For others, they represent the noise, pollution, and crowds […]

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Ísafjörður to Introduce Environmental Rating System for Cruise Ships

ísafjörður harbour

The town of Ísafjörður has announced its intention to introduce an environmental rating system for cruise ships next year, reports RÚV.

If all goes according to plan, the Ísafjörður Port Authority will begin implementing the Environmental Port Index next year. The Harbour Master emphasized the need for such regulation, as ever-increasing numbers of cruise ships have raised pollution concerns for the community.

The Environmental Port Index (EPI) is based on a Norwegian model with the goal of reducing pollution while in harbour. The EPI is based on calculations for environmental impact that take into account CO2, SO2, and NOx. By establishing a ship’s maximum tolerable impact, a comprehensive report is collected which includes the ship’s fuel consumption, emission levels, and power usage at port. This report is then submitted for further environmental assessment.

According to Ísafjörður Harbour Master Hilmar Kristjánsson Lyngmo, “we want to measure emissions other pollution from the ships. It accumulates over the harbour and all of the town as well. It’s also good to be in line with the other harbours in Iceland, that there’s the same rating system in the harbours.”

The matter was discussed at a meeting of the Harbour Authority yesterday. Efforts are now underway to research the cost of implementation of the new system.

Hilmar continued: “As I see it, this could be put into effect by next year. But it’s becoming a bit tight within this timeframe.”


What’s the status of the Ísafjörður cruise ship terminal?

ísafjörður cruise ship

In 2022, Ísafjörður, a town with a population of around 2,700, received some 86,000 passengers from cruise ships alone and predictions only have cruise ships increasing in this remote region of Iceland. Ísafjörður, the 13th-largest town in Iceland, is its 3rd-busiest port of call for cruise ships.

Indeed, due to the volume of cruise traffic to the town, Ísafjörður port manager Guðmundur M. Kristjánsson recently stated to Vísir that they have not been able to keep up with demand and have had to turn away some prospective visitors.

Because of the ever-increasing scale of cruise ship traffic, local authorities have begun an ISK 1 billion [$7.6 million, €6.8] expansion to the Ísafjörður harbour.

Construction on the project began in 2021 and aims to expand the harbour by developing the Sundabakki area. Upon completion, the harbour will be able to accommodate two large cruise ships at a time.

In the annual financial plan of Ísafjarðarbær, Ísafjörður Harbor is expected to take in ISK 500 million [$3.8 million, €3.4 million]. Of this total, 344 million ISK comes from foreign parties.




300,000 Tourists to Visit Ísafjörður Next Summer Via Cruise Ships

Approximately 300,000 tourists are expected to arrive in Ísafjörður via cruise ships next summer, RÚV reports. Receiving so many tourists is a “challenge,” the mayor of Ísajförður has stated, with many residents keeping entirely out of the downtown area during the busiest periods.

Mass arrivals to test infrastructure

Ísafjörður, located in Iceland’s Westfjords, is a town of roughly 3,000 residents.

Next summer, tourists – numbering ten times the town’s population – are expected to arrive in Ísafjörður via cruise ships. A total of 218 ships, carrying 245,000 passengers (excluding crew members) have announced their arrival.

During a 35-day period next summer, RÚV notes, 3,000 visitors are expected to arrive in Ísafjörður every day. “8,200 tourists are expected to arrive in town during one particular day.”

In an interview with RÚV published this morning, Arna Lára Jónsdóttir, Mayor of Ísafjörður, added the caveat that experience had shown that there were always a few cancellations. “Nonetheless, this is a record number of arrivals, which will greatly test our infrastructure. That much is clear.”

Avoid the downtown area completely

As noted in RÚV’s article, the port dues paid by cruise ships have become the main source of income for Ísafjörður harbour, which also comprises the harbours of Þingeyri, Flateyri, and Suðureyri.

(The Ísafjarðarbær municipality was founded in 1996 with the merger of six municipalities in the northern Westfjords: the districts of Þingeyri, Mýri, Mosvellir, Flateyri, Suðureyri, and Ísafjörður).

By directing traffic through these four harbours, the municipality would be able to ease the burden. “Those passengers that arrive here, go all the way to Arnarfjörður, to Dynjandi, or here into Djúpið. So we’re able to distribute the burden, so to speak,” Arna Lára observed, noting that the numerous arrivals presented an opportunity for the travel industry – although it was important not to overdo it.

“There are many residents who monitor arrivals at the harbour; they may decide to avoid the downtown area completely in the event that there are four or five cruise ships arriving.”

Arna Lára added that Ísafjörður was a fishing town and that the fishing industry needed its space: “We’ve got to strike a balance. But there are many days in Ísafjörður where we’re completely booked.”

Local Health Board Asks Again for Akureyri to Monitor Cruise Emissions

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland has reissued its request that the Town of Akureyri invest in a device that would monitor cruise ship emissions in the area, RÚV reports. Opinions are divided as to how polluted cruise ship emissions are, but hazy white smoke is often visible hanging over the town when ships are berthed in the harbour.

Almost 200,000 tourists travelling on 200 cruise ships will visit Akureyri this summer. There is usually more than one ship in port at the same time and in certain weather conditions, a white haze can be observed hanging over the town. On a windless day, like Friday, exhaust from the cruise ships in Akureyri’s harbour is easily visible.

Pétur Ólafsson, Akureyri’s harbour master, says he isn’t concerned about the emissions. “Many of the ships that come to Iceland now have really excellent cleaning equipment, called scrubbers, which clean their exhaust by around 98% so it’s often just steam coming out. People understandably think it’s all pollution, but it isn’t.”

While he admitted he hadn’t chemically analysed the haze that was hanging over Akureyri on Friday, Pétur noted that the ships in the harbour on Friday “use legal fuel” and no heavy fuel oil.

Scrubbers help, but they also create their own pollutants

Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is a widely used but controversial fuel for large vessels. It’s comparatively inexpensive, but has a thick, viscous consistency, has a high sulphur concentration, and is incredibly difficult to clean up in the event of a spill, as evidenced by the 2020 incident in which a Japanese freight carrier started leaking HFO into the Indian Ocean around the coral reefs of Mauritius.

As of that same year, Iceland issued a number of restrictions on marine fuels, including limiting the sulphur content in marine fuels used in Iceland and within the pollution jurisdiction of Iceland to .5% and mandating that vessels at berth in ports “shall use shore electricity instead of marine fuels as possible.” In the event that shoreline electricity cannot be used, “vessels in ports in Iceland shall not use marine fuels with a sulphur content exceeding 0.1% (m/m).”

But even if the cruise ships aren’t using HFO and are using scrubbers, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any risk of pollutants and emissions. According to a statement on the subject of scrubbers issued by HFO-Free Arctic in 2019: “Using a scrubber to extract the sulphur from a ship’s exhaust results in the production of scrubber effluent or waste which will need to be disposed of. Most scrubbers are “open loop” which means the waste produced, which can be high in sulphur and also other pollutants such as heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, can be dumped straight into the sea. There are also concerns that if a scrubber malfunctions in cold temperatures or due to ice, ships will continue to burn HFO and will emit high levels of Sulphur.”

First request for pollution to be monitored issued in 2019

The Health Board of Northeast Iceland first requested that Akureyri purchase a device that could monitor pollution from cruise ship emissions in 2019. The request was turned down. Alfreð Schiöth, the managing director of the Health Board noted that ports in Faxaflói, the bay that extends between the peninsulas of Reykjanes in the south and Snæfellsnes in the west and also includes Reykjavík and the West Iceland town of Akranes.

“The ports along Faxaflói taking doing really precise measurements at present and we’ll be watching them closely because those are the same ships that are coming [north].”


Ghostly Grounding of Viking Ship Not a Halloween Prank

A ramshackle Viking ship ran aground near Bessastaðir, the presidential residence, on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. With Halloween just around the corner, the unmanned vessel’s mysterious and unscheduled appearance briefly seemed supernatural in nature, but much more prosaic explanations were quickly uncovered.

Screenshot via RÚV

On Friday morning, reporters were notified that a ship had run aground on the islet of Eskines, just offshore from the Gálgahraun lava field, but they weren’t told what—or what kind of—ship it was. Inquiries made to the presidential secretary shed no further light on the eerie craft: no one at Bessastaðir even knew the ship was there.

After further investigation, reporters were finally able to determine that the ship was Vikingaskipið Drakar, a vessel modeled on the Gokstad ship. Gokstad was a 9th century Viking ship that was 24 meters [78 ft] long, 5 meters [16 ft] wide, and would have been manned by 32 Vikings. Drakar was commissioned by a Viking ship enthusiast in Brazil in 2007 and briefly used as a tour boat for as many as 95 passengers at a time. In 2015, however, it was sold and transported from Trinidad and Tobago to Iceland. It has been moored in Kópavogur for the last three or four years.

via Víkingaskipið Drakar, Facebook

The current owner, Kristinn Gíslason, was quick to confirm that the ghostly grounding was not a Halloween prank. He found out that his boat had drifted away when he got a call from the harbour at 11 am on Friday morning. But while it may not have been a Trick or Treat prank, some mischief was definitely at play: the harbour master confirmed that the ship had to have been purposefully released from its moorings. He’d heard talk that local teens snuck aboard Drakar the night before.

Drakar was only briefly stranded in the shallow waters around Eskines; high tide on Friday came at 12:40 and the ship was sailed back to its rightful harbour.



Stricter Regulations on Marine Fuel Proposed

overfishing iceland

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has published an amended draft to the current regulations on the Sulphur content of liquid fuels. RÚV reports that if these amendments are adopted, the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) would be prohibited within Icelandic territorial waters starting at the beginning of next year.

Heavy Fuel Oil is “the generic term [that] describes fuels used to generate motion and/or fuels to generate heat that have a particularly high viscosity and density.” HFOs “are mainly used as marine fuel, and HFO is the most widely used marine fuel at this time; virtually all medium and low-speed marine diesel engines are designed for heavy fuel oil.”

About 22% of the marine fuel sold in Iceland in 2016 was HFO; it is used by some Icelandic fishing vessels. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the pollution from cruise ships, which run on HFO, and according to current Icelandic law, the use of such fuel is prohibited when a cruise ship is docked at an Icelandic port.

The current law, which went into effect in 2015, allows for the Sulphur content in marine fuel used within Icelandic territorial waters to be up to 3.5%. If the amendments go into effect, this percentage would go down to .1%. This is lower than the updated Sulphur pollution regulations that are outlined in the revised International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships agreement, or MARPOL Annex VI. Per the revised regulations, which go into effect on January 1, 2020, cosignatories to the agreement, including Iceland, will not be allowed to use marine fuel that has a Sulphur content that is higher than .5%.

If Iceland puts a stricter Sulphur content limit in place, ships using a higher percentage fuel would need to employ approved methods of reducing their Sulphur Dioxide emissions while within Icelandic territorial waters. A .1% Sulphur limit would, however, be in accordance with restrictions already in place in the so-called ECA areas in the Baltic and North Seas.

Oscar Swag Bag Includes Trip to Iceland

Among the swag found in the gift bag that was given to all of this year’s 25 nominees for an Oscar in the acting or directing categories is a free trip to Iceland.

Forbes reports that for the seventeenth year running, the LA-based marketing agency Distinctive Assets has put together an “Everyone Wins” Nominee Gift Bag which is valued at more than $100,000. The gifts included are varied to say the least, including “a broad selection of cannabis products,” a glow-in-the-dark toilet plunger shaped like a poop emoji, color-changing lipstick, a bottle of absinthe, a cooler filled with Jarritos soda, and training sessions with a celebrity trainer.

Recipients can also choose from one of four “luxury small-ship adventure[s]” to Iceland, the Galapagos, the Amazon, or Costa Rica. The trips are valued at $15,000 – $20,000 [ISK 1.79 million – ISK 2.39 million; €13,227 – €17,637]. According to provider International Expeditions, their nine-day voyage on a three-masted motor-sailer includes first stops in Akureyri and around Lake Mývatn, then travels around Siglufjörður in the North Fjords, Ísafjörður and stops in the Westfjords, Snæfellsnes in West Iceland, and finally ends with a tour around the Golden Circle.

Iceland submitted Woman at War, directed by Benedikt Erlingsson and starring Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir to be the country’s submission to this year’s Best Foreign Film category, but it did not make the final five.

Big Expansions for Bíldudalur Harbour

The harbour in Bíldudalur, a village with a population of just over 200 people, will be the site of considerable expansion and investment next year, RÚV reports. This news was announced by Rebekka Hilmarsdóttir, district manager of the Vesturbyggð municipality in the Westfjords, in a radio interview on Thursday.

“There’s been a great explosion of activity in the harbour,” Rebekka explained. “We’ve got both the salmon farming and the [seaweed-derived calcium supplement production], and then we’ve also had ships sailing internationally stopping over here, so there’s a real call for building up the harbour.”

Municipal documentation shows that the harbour has generated considerable revenue over the years, or an estimated ISK 155 million ($1.3m/€1.2m). Once wages are deducted, harbour operations are expected to increase upwards of ISK 33 million ($283,000/€248,000) next year. This increase in revenue is attributed to local aquaculture, as well as cruise ship landings in Patreksfjörður and the Samskip cargo company’s operations in and out of Bíldudalur.

According to a survey conducted by the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, fishing fees in Vesturbyggð harbours increased 32.2 percent between 2008 and 2017, which is one of the greatest increases of the kind in the country. The increase in activities in Bíldudalur is ultimately expected to generate 50% more full-time equivalent positions.

Among the primary improvements that the municipality will be investing in is road repairs, says Rebekka. “One of the big projects in the coming years is going to be establishing a proper connection to the outside world,” she said, including road construction in the area of Gufudalur district.