Sunken WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil Into Seyðisfjörður Fjord

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid, despite repeated efforts to stop the leak. The Environment Agency of Iceland along with the Icelandic Coast Guard is now assessing the situation. A leak had been spotted in the fjord, and divers from the Icelandic Coast Guard confirmed the leak at the wreck site.

A leak from a different tank

A leak from one of the ship’s tanks had been closed off earlier this spring. The leak this time around was coming from a different tank, situated under the ship’s bridge. The oil leaks out of an entrance which is blocked off by rubbish as well as sediment on the ship deck. The government approved funding up to ISK 38 million ($278,000, €240,000) this spring to stop the leak. The initiative is led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The operations last spring focused on stopping the leak by placing concrete over the opening. Those operations were successful but the oil surfaced this time around found its way out of a different part of the ship.

It is believed that higher sea temperature during this time of the year can lead to increased leakage. “According to the results from the dive this spring, and the following operations, the tank did not appear to be leaking. But the leak has appeared now. The temperature of the sea has risen and it is normally then that leaks start to appear around El Grillo,” says Sigurrós Friðriksdóttir, a project manager at The Environment Agency of Iceland. When asked about the size of the leak, is it relatively small compared to the last couple of years. “No, it’s not a lot of leakages and we’ve been in contact with the port of Seyðisfjörður town due to the leak. They estimate that a lot less of oil is surfacing than in the last couple of years,” Sigurrós stated in an interview with RÚV.

Sunken WWII ship

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

El Grillo sinking in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.

Efforts Underway to Stop Oil Leakage from Sunken Tanker

The government is taking steps to prevent further leakage from the El Grillo oil tanker, RÚV reports. The British ship was sunk just off the coast of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland during a German air raid in February 1944 and oil began leaking into the bay shortly after that.

On Friday morning, the government approved Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson’s request for ISK 38 million ($264,000/€243,000) to seal the ruptured hull of the ship and prevent further leakage. Efforts were made to pump oil from El Grillo in 1952 and 2001, but the leaking has continued intermittently.

See Also: Sunk British WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil in Seyðisfjörður

Oil leakage from the sunken tanker became a problem again last summer. An investigation was launched and Coast Guard divers discovered that the ship’s hull had corroded. Per the government’s decision this morning, the breach will be filled with concrete to prevent further leakage. A valve will be fitted in the concrete so that, if necessary, oil can be pumped from the ship in the future.

The plan is to fill in the hole in El Grillo’s hull this spring, before the sea warms and the oil begins leaking again.

Sunk British WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil in Seyðisfjörður

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid. The oil is killing off birds in the fjord while old oil can still be seen on beaches in the area. Municipal authorities intend to request the United Kingdom for assistance with cleaning up the wreck and preventing further pollution.

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.

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A duckling in the tidemark struggling to deal with oil

Rúnar Gunnarsson, head port security officer and chairman of the security council, says the conditions have been especially bad this summer in an interview with RÚV. “As the sea warms, more oil surfaces as the oil needs only a small change in temperature to start to move. The ship is presumably getting more and more damaged, as it’s laid there for 75 years. The current brings the oil into the fjord, which enters the beaches and affects the birds. It’s very serious. Adolescent birds and the eider duck ducklings can’t seem to handle the oil. The adult birds seem, for some reason, to handle the oil better, but the adolescent birds have died in drove this year,” a worried Rúnar said. He wants to see a floating pen placed over the wreck before the oil starts to rise again next summer. No-one knows for sure how much oil can be found in the wreckage. “I’ve heard people speak of 14 tons which is quite a lot in the grand scale of things. We are going to contact the British embassy and see whether the British want to take any part in the cleaning. When it boils down to it, it’s their ship. They owned the ship and the oil which went down with it.”

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El Grillo the day of the attack in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Wartime Iceland
Although Iceland remained neutral in World War II, the British invaded Iceland on May 10, 1940. The country was considered of strategic importance due to its position in the North Atlantic. It was mainly used as a base for Allied shipping convoys headed with supplies to Murmansk in northern Russia. On July 7, 1941, the United States took control of the defence of Iceland. It is believed that around 230 Icelanders lost their lives in the war, most on fishing and cargo vessels sunk by German aircraft, U-boats or mines.

Seyðisfjörður was home to one of the Allied bases in the country, as both warships and merchant vessels moored in the bay before heading to Russia. Seyðisfjörður was attacked once more in WWII, other than the attack which led to El Grillo’s sinking. On September 5, 1942, two German aeroplanes attacked Seyðisfjörður and dropped two bombs into the fjord. One of the bombs fell only seven metres from four boys who were playing in an old rowboat. Luckily, none of the boys lost their lives but one of the boys lost his leg while two others sustained injuries. Aðalbergur Þórarinsson was one of the boys and he was struck in the groin by a bomb shard. Although Aðalbergur long dealt with a fear of aeroplanes, he remains stoic about the event, “I bear no ill-will towards the man who flew the aeroplane. These were men who were summoned to war and were simply fighting.” Just last year, a group of twelve-year-old boys were throwing an active bomb between them, putting themselves at considerable risk. The bomb is believed to be from El Grillo’s anti-aircraft gun.

Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður is situated in East Iceland, home to 673 people. Nowadays it is home to an active art community, hosting the yearly art festival LungA. The ferry MS Norröna travels sails from Denmark to Seyðisfjörður, stopping in the Faroe Islands capital Tórshavn en route.

Video of the wreck, oil slicks in the fjord along with affected ducklings, can be seen here: https://www.ruv.is/frett/bretar-hreinsi-drepandi-oliu-ur-seydisfirdi