Warehouse Fire in Hafnarfjörður

It took firefighters around six hours to put out a fire that started at a Hafnarfjörður warehouse last night in the Reykjavík capital area, RÚV reports. No injuries were reported, but the fire destroyed the building, which had been empty for some time. The cause of the incident is still unknown, but it is being investigated by the police’s forensics department.

Police received reports of the fire around 8:30 PM last night and all available firefighters were called out to the scene. The warehouse was empty, but the fire spread to an attached storage unit and burned the contents inside, which included tyres. Some gas cylinders inside the burning building caused minor explosions. A favourable wind direction blew the smoke out to sea, limiting the spread of the fire and smoke pollution in nearby areas.

A screenshot from RÚV

Conditions at the scene were difficult. As the building was covered with corrugated iron on the outside, firefighting crews had to rip off the roof to get at the fire. No firefighters were sent into the building as there were no valuables to recover.

Owner lost another building in a fire four years ago

The house is owned by Hafnarfell hf., which in the ownership of fishing operator Haraldur Reynir Jónasson. Haraldur lost another building in Hafnarfjörður harbour to a fire four years ago. Reporters were unable to get a statement from Haraldur, who is abroad as of the time of writing.

The part of the warehouse where the fire is believed to have broken out has not been in use for some time, but was previously used as a shipbuilding workshop. Two companies operate in the other part of the building, a machine shop and a company that uses part of the building as a storage space.

Man Drowns Following Accident at Westman Islands Harbour

The driver of the vehicle that went into the harbour in Westman Islands yesterday evening has been pronounced dead, RÚV reports. The police have launched an investigation into the incident.

Resuscitation attempts unsuccessful

At 8.18 PM yesterday, the Westman Islands police were notified of a vehicle that had been driven into the Nausthamarsbryggja harbour in the Westman Islands. Speaking to RÚV, Chief Inspector Jóhannes Ólafsson stated that a crew member of a local fishing boat, which was on its way to the port, had placed the call.

A response team was immediately dispatched, and a diver was sent to retrieve the vehicle’s driver, who was alone in the car and unconscious. Despite quick reactions from the authorities, resuscitation attempts proved unsuccessful, and the man was pronounced dead. According to an announcement from the police, an investigation has been launched into the causes of the accident.

Construction Begins on Largest Residential Neighborhood Outside of the Capital Area

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Construction began on a new residential neighbourhood in the south coast village of Þorlákshöfn last week. Vísir reports that the neighbourhood, christened Móabyggð, will home 450 residents in 78 apartments and, when completed, will be the biggest housing development in South Iceland—and possibly the whole country, outside of the capital area.

According to an announcement about the project, the apartments will be two to four rooms, ranging from 60 to 95 m2 [645 — 1022 ft2]. The buildings, which will have poured concrete construction, will be built on site, have external insulation, and aluminium cladding. The 78 apartments will be configured in 11 low-rise apartment buildings connected by ‘eco-streets,’ which—with an eye to the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels—will feature charging stations to allow people to charge electric vehicles. Eco-friendly materials will also be used in the buildings’ construction.

The apartments will not be uniform, but rather will have varied construction and offer many of the same advantages of freestanding, single-family homes. The neighbourhood’s location was chosen with the needs of residents in mind, close to all major services such as health care, kindergartens and schools, gyms, and the swimming pool.

Þorlákshöfn is located on the southern coast of Iceland in the municipality of Ölfus, just under an hour away from Reykjavík. It currently has 1,847 residents and is an important working harbour with a ferry that runs back and forth from the Westman Islands. Its primary industries are fish processing and ship-outfitting, as well tourist services.

In the coming years, Þorlákshöfn authorities plan to attract more ship traffic to their harbour with an expansion that would accommodate larger ships. Fish farming on land is also a growing industry in the municipality.

Þorlákshöfn Harbour Now Fifth Busiest in Iceland

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There was a 23% increase in transport through Þorlákshöfn harbour in Southwest Iceland between 2019 and 2020, according to newly released figures from Statistics Iceland. The ports of Reykjavík, Grundartangi, Straumsvík and Mjóeyri in Reyðarfjörður maintained their positions as the four busiest ports in Iceland in 2020. The rankings are based on tonnes loaded and unloaded at the ports.

Local authorities in Þorlákshöfn are planning an ISK 3 billion [$23.3 million; €20 million] expansion of the harbour that would allow it to accommodate ships up to 180 metres long and 30 metres wide. The renovation would take three years to complete but the new harbour would be usable within two years, according to Elliði Vignisson, mayor of Ölfus municipality.

By docking in Þorlákshöfn instead of Reykjavík, cargo ships would shorten their journey between Iceland and Europe by up to 24 hours, which would lessen the carbon footprint of transport, Elliði stated. A larger harbour in the town could also prove beneficial for the tourism industry, the mayor argued.

Encouraging Women to Become Marine Engineers, Ship Captains

Associated Icelandic Ports, or Faxaports, the company that manages a number of major ports in Reykjavík and West Iceland, has signed a contract with the Technical College in which both parties have agreed to take concrete steps towards establishing gender equity within the fields of marine engineering and navigation.

Reykjavík’s Technical College currently offers marine captain, master of ships, and marine engineering study programmes. Faxaports is the largest port company in Iceland, “the main gateway for import to Iceland and export from the country,” as director Gísli Gíslason told espo.be, and  “…handles 100,000 tons of fish, 330,000 TEU and 190,000 cruise passengers” per year. Both parties see the establishment of gender parity in the marine industry as being in their mutual interest and have committed to work together to reach this goal.

Among other things, Faxaport will make jobs in its harbour facilities more accessible to women. It will hire two women studying ship captaincy to work in its ports during the summer months each year, which will give them practical, hands-on training and experience in their chosen fields and make efforts to find summer work for women students of marine engineering in its facilities.

The Technical College will make concerted efforts to encourage women to enter marine industry study programs and will assist with education, retraining, and professional development in marine engineering and ship captaincy among Faxaport’s current staff. Additionally, Faxaport and the Technical College will establish an award to recognise a woman, or women, who are studying in a marine-related study programme.

In so doing, both parties hope to make marine captaincy and engineering “more accessible and interesting to women.”


Three Large Avalanches Sweep Through Westfjords

Three large avalanches fell in quick succession in the Westfjords of Iceland just before midnight yesterday, RÚV reports. Two fell in Flateyri and one in Súgandafjörður directly across from Suðureyri, the latter of which caused a tidal wave that struck the town. Although no one was seriously injured, properties were damaged and residents were understandably frightened.

Rescued by ICE-SAR

A teenage girl was rescued from the avalanche in Flateyri by ICE-SAR. The girl escaped without serious injury, although she had been trapped for half an hour, the avalanche having fallen on a part of her home. Her siblings, a five-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, managed to escape from the house with their mother by climbing through a window. The coast guard ship Þór transported the girl and her relatives to Ísafjörður. The girl’s condition is good, given the circumstances.

A reporter for RÚV spoke to the girl’s doctor this morning, who stated that she was both cold and tired:

“Her room was filled with snow. Thick snow. Like concrete. Fortunately, rescuers worked quickly to shovel the snow and help her escape. The girl’s mother knew exactly where she was … there was a nurse in Flateryi, very experienced, who warmed the girl.”

Small-boat harbour destroyed

The second avalanche that fell on Flateyri caused considerable damage to the harbour. Magnús Einar Manússon, director of ICE-SAR in Flateyri, described the damage in an interview with Vísir:

“The small boat harbour is gone. All of the boats have sunk. We estimate that seven boats have sunk or are half-submerged by the harbour,” he stated.

Gísli Jón Kristjánsson, the owner of Alda ÍS, the only vessel that was not destroyed on the Flateyri harbour, told RÚV that the avalanche had obviously been quite powerful:

“The entire fleet is gone and so is the floating dock. It must have been quite the blow; there’s a lot of snow on the harbour. It’s a catastrophe.”

An orange weather alert is still in effect for parts of the Westfjords. Roads leading in and out of Ísafjörður are impassable. No flights will depart from the Ísafjörður Airport today. Travellers in the area are encouraged to monitor conditions on Safetravel.

Disaster Relief

Flateyri residents reacted quickly to the avalanche but were quite taken aback; 25 years ago, on October 26, 20 people died when a comparable avalanche struck the town. Protective walls that were erected following the avalanche in 1995 appeared to have prevented the avalanches from causing further damage. The walls were not, however, designed to protect the harbour.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke to RÚV this morning:

“I think all of us are startled. I took the time this morning, as soon as I heard the news, to contact a few residents in the Westfjords. Everyone is, of course, quite startled, recalling the events of 1995, which are still fresh in our memory.”

The Icelandic Red Cross has opened disaster relief centres in Flateyri, Suðureyri, and Ísafjörður, offering relief to residents who have been asked to evacuate due to avalanche warnings. 45 individuals are currently seeking refuge in Ísafjörður and nine in Suðureyri. The centre in Flateyri will open at 1 pm today. According to Helena Skaptason Jónsdóttir, a psychologist with the Icelandic Red Cross, crisis counsellours will be assisting residents throughout the day.

Tidal Wave

The tidal wave caused by the avalanche in Súgandafjörður did not cause significant damage to the town of Suðureyri. Ocean water flooded a single house and encroached on a nearby road.

This article will be updated.

Construction Blast Mistaken for Earthquake

Residents of the Hafnarfjörður in Southwest Iceland have twice been shaken by planned blasts on the seabed of the town harbour, RÚV reports. The blasts are part of construction work on a new steel seawall, but some locals mistook a planned explosion on Friday for an earthquake.

According to an article on hafnarfjordur.is, the seawall will be 110 metres [360 feet] long and will run in front of Suðurhöfn, or South Harbour. This will then become the primary port for the research vessel of the Marine and Research Institute, which will be moving its offices to the site later this year. An underwater trench needs to be created in order to complete construction on the seawall, hence the blasts. So far, there have been three blasts, and it’s expected that there will be two to three more in the next two weeks as construction continues.

The blast on Friday occurred around 1:30 pm. Just after this, the Icelandic Met Office received a number of calls from residents in Hafnarfjörður and nearby Garðabær about the aftershocks, which they believed resulted from an earthquake.

People in the area can refer to hafnarfjordur.is for news of when the next blast will take place. An alarm will also sound three times the explosion takes place to warn people in the area.


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.