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.

In Focus: Iceland’s Ferries

iceland ferry

This spring, the ferry Sæfari will be out of commission for maintenance, in drydock from at least March 20 until May 15. Sæfari services Grímsey, an island 40 km [25 mi] north of the mainland, bisected by the Arctic Circle. The 50-some residents of Grímsey are dependent on the ferry, not just for getting to […]

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500 Travellers Trapped in Seyðisfjörður for Two Days

Seyðisfjörður

Some 500 passengers are stuck in Seyðisfjörður for the second day in a row. RÚV reports.

Seyðisfjörður is a small fishing village in Iceland’s East Fjords, notable as a tourist destination for both its vibrant art and cultural life and also its ferry connection. Nestled at the bottom of a steep fjord, Seyðisfjörður is only accessible over land via Fjarðarheiði, a mountain pass.

Conditions in the last days have left Fjarðarheiði impassable, meaning that the travellers are stuck in place for some time.

500 passengers

The travellers arrived in Seyðisfjörður yesterday, March 21. Among the passengers of the ferry are some Faroese and a group of around 50 German travellers. Most travellers are expected to take the ferry back in the morning, a sure disappointment.

Agnar Sverrisson, regional manager of Smyril Line in Seyðisfjörður, stated to RÚV:  “Up on the heath, you have to drive about 10 km [6 mi] at an altitude of over 600 meters [1970 ft]. Many travellers are reluctant to make the journey in difficult conditions. It stops us from doing business for much of the winter.”

Other operations in Seyðisfjörður are being called on to help out as well, although reports indicate that the herring processing facility, which houses an important electric generator, has begun to run low on fuel. According to RÚV, generator fuel should last through the night, but if it comes to it, they may have to burn ship diesel in the generator to keep the lights on.

A fuel truck will be sent over the mountain pass as soon as conditions allow.

Making the most of it

Despite the disappointing nature of the trip, the travellers seem to be making the most of it.

Marie Kruger, a tourist guide, stated to RÚV: “There are people there who have been to Iceland before, and these people may think it’s a bit of an adventure and a bit exciting to experience something like this. But then, of course, there are the others who were really looking forward to seeing the East, and they are naturally disappointed. But people understand the situation and see what is going on.”

The unfortunate closure has also thrown new light on a possible tunnel to Seyðisfjörður, which has been discussed before.

According to Agnar, “It’s a matter of life and death for Seyðisfjörður to get a tunnel. And then for the community in East Iceland as a whole to continue to be open. To connect Austurland together so that this can be considered a single business and tourism area.”

 

 

Grímsey Ferry Out of Service for 6-8 Weeks

Grímsey

The ferry that connects the 53 residents of Grímsey island to the mainland of Iceland will be out of commission for 6-8 weeks this spring for regular maintenance, RÚV reports. No backup transportation has yet been found to move either people or goods to and from the island during that period. One local city councillor says it is the equivalent of cutting off a mainland town in Iceland from the Ring Road.

Grímsey falls under the municipality of Akureyri, North Iceland. Akureyri Municipal Council has criticised the situation and says the Road and Coastal Administration of Iceland, which owns and operates the Grímsey ferry, has not been keeping residents informed about the situation.

“The thing is that ferry routes are just like Route One [the main highway around Iceland] and we would of course not accept any community being cut off from the main transport artery,” Akureyri Councillor Halla Björk Reynisdóttir stated. The Grímsey ferry is not only used to transport people but also goods, including the fish caught by Grímsey fishermen. Sólveig Gísladóttir of the Road and Coastal Administration’s communication department stated that the organisation is working towards a solution and it should be found and presented to residents by the end of the week.

Grímsey residents have long been calling for a replacement for their island’s ferry. Sæfari, as the current ferry is named, was initially supposed to be used for 10 years but has now been operating for 15. The maintenance to be done on the ferry this coming April and May is meant to extend its lifetime by a few more years.

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.

Three-Day Westman Islands Ferry Strike Called Off

Heimaey, Westman Islands

A three-day workers’ strike that would have suspended ferry service to the Westman Islands has been called off, RÚV reports. It was the third scheduled strike action among workers in the Seamen’s Union of Iceland (Sjómannafélag Íslands), who are in wage negotiations with Herjólfur ohf., which operates the national route. The ferry is main transport route between Iceland’s mainland and the archipelago, home to around 4,300 inhabitants.

Representatives of the two parties have agreed on a negotiation schedule and expect to sign a contract by August 17. Jónas Garðarsson, chairman of the Seamen’s Union stated he would have wished for more progress in the matter, but the Union did not want to bear responsibility for the impact a strike would have on tourism in the islands.

Westman Islands Mayor Íris Róbertsdóttir celebrated the development. “Of course it’s very good news for the whole community and for us islanders that the strike has been called off,” Íris stated. “A three-day strike has a huge impact on the entire community here and at this time of year, as has been stated, it has a huge impact on every aspect of life here in the Islands, tourism and people’s employment opportunities and everything.”

Ferry Sails to Westman Islands Despite Workers’ Strike

Herjólfur ferry Landeyjahöfn harbour

The old Westman islands ferry Herjólfur III will make four trips between the islands and the mainland today despite a strike among workers in the Seamen’s Union of Iceland (Sjómannafélag Íslands). RÚV reports that workers in other unions will be operating the ship. Guðbjartur Ellert Jónsson, CEO of Herjólfur ohf. asserts the move is not strike-breaking.

“We decided to sail the old Herjólfur for four trips today to meet the responsibility and obligation we have to keep this national route open. We manned it with our employees who are not members of Sjómannafélag Íslands,” Guðbjartur stated. The new Herjólfur ferry is undergoing repairs in the meantime.

Herjólfur’s workers began strike action last week, with a one-day strike that suspended ferry service. A three-day strike is scheduled for next week if the wage dispute is not resolved. Both parties in the dispute say there is no basis for scheduling further negotiations at the moment.

Strike Action Affecting Tourism On Island

Magnús Bragason, who operates Hótel Vestmannaeyjar told RÚV that the strike action is causing a slew of cancellations. “[J]une and July looked really good and we were fully booked in the coming days. Today and tomorrow most rooms have been cancelled and cancellations have started coming for next week. So this does us a lot of harm,” Magnús stated. Magnús fears the strike will damage the islands’ reputation as an attractive tourist destination. “We had a campaign called Westman Islands – a good idea. I don’t know how much of a good idea they are today.”

Two-Day Strike Suspends Westman Islands Ferry Trips

The Herjólfur ferry to the Westman Islands will not sail today or tomorrow while its workers are on strike, RÚV reports. No meetings have been scheduled in the wage dispute between the ferry company and the Seamen’s Union (Sjómannafélag Íslands) that represents the workers.

Herjólfur’s workers began strike action last week, with a one-day strike that suspended ferry service. A three-day strike is scheduled for next week if the wage dispute is not resolved.

The ferry is the main form of transport between Iceland’s mainland and the Westman Islands for the islands’ 4,300 inhabitants. The ferry transported a record number of passengers last June, both locals and tourists, many of whom visit the islands for their large puffin colonies and unique nature.