Stranded Ship Will Be Towed to Hólmavík

Pollution fence around Wilson Skaw

The cargo ship Wilson Skaw, which stranded in Húnaflói Bay on April 18, will be towed to Hólmavík for temporary repairs and then to the shipyard in Akureyri, North Iceland, RÚV reports. Before the ship can be towed, however, Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Freyja will be used to move 2,000 tonnes of salt, part of the ship’s cargo, to ensure the ship is better balanced.

Wilson Skaw stranded off Iceland’s north coast last week carrying 2,000 tonnes of salt and 195 tonnes of oil. Most of the oil has already been pumped off the ship to prevent possible environmental damage. The 113-metre ship was refloated on April 21. Due to damage, authorities considered it unsafe to tow the ship directly to Akureyri for repairs.

The ship’s crew has remained on board since the stranding and it has been deemed safe for it to do so.

Stranded Cargo Ship Refloated

Cargo Ship Wilson Skaw stranded in Húnaflói

The cargo ship Wilson Skaw was refloated around 9:00 this morning.

The 113m-long cargo ship ran aground on April 19 in Húnaflói bay, off the north coast of Iceland.

The Freyja coastguard vessel is now towing the ship, but the going is slow to avoid other skerries and reefs in the area.

Read More: Cargo Ship Stranded Off North Iceland

Ásgeir Erlendsson, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard, stated to Vísir: “What’s happening now is that the Freyja coastguard vessel is slowly towing the ship in the hope of getting it into deeper water. However, it must be kept in mind that there are quite a few underwater rocks in the area.”

The Coast Guard is now moving the ship to deeper waters, as it has been stranded since Tuesday. The ship was carrying two thousand tonnes of salt and 195 tonnes of oil when it ran aground.

Minor damage to the hull was recorded, but luckily, there was no leakage. The Coast Guard had placed containment nets around the grounded ship as a security measure briefly following its stranding.

“It’s crucial to protect the environment in situations like this. Fortunately, there are no signs of oil leakage into the sea,” Ásgeir further stated.

The Wilson Skaw is operated by Wilson Ship Management AS.

 

Search Continues for Fisherman Who Fell Overboard

The Icelandic Coast Guard defended Iceland during the Cod Wars

The search continues for a sailor who fell overboard a fishing vessel just outside the Faxaflói Bay on Friday afternoon. RÚV reports that the search and rescue operation is the most extensive of its kind in years, with eight ships and one of the Coast Guard’s helicopters currently taking part.

Ships went out in search of the man as soon as the Coast Guard got word of his accident at around 5:00 pm on Friday. At the time, two helicopters, the Coast Guard’s patrol ship Þór, and 14 fishing vessels and search and rescue boats joined the search. The majority of the search was paused just before 1:00 am on Saturday morning, although the patrol ship Þór continued to look overnight.

The search resumed in full at 10:00 am on Sunday morning; one of the Coast Guard’s helicopters joined in around 11:00 am. Given the time that had passed since the sailor fell overboard, the search area was expanded to a radius of ten nautical miles to the northwest of the Garðskagi peninsula.

Guðmundur Birkir Agnarsson, the Coast Guard’s operations manager, said that search conditions on Sunday were worse than they were the day before, with stronger winds and waves, and more limited visibility. At time of writing, the sea temperature in Faxaflói Bay was about 5°C [41°F].

Accidents at sea have, thankfully, become far less common than they used to be in Iceland. “Over the last few years, we haven’t had any fatal accidents at sea, including with people falling overboard,” said Guðmundur Birkir. “So this probably the most extensive search we’ve had in recent years.”

Search and rescue efforts will continue until darkness falls, Guðmundur Birkir confirmed, although he did not say how efforts would continue if the missing man had not been found by then.

Read more about how Icelandic fishermen are trained to stay safe.

Dramatic Helicopter Maneuvering Saves Life

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

An Icelandic coast guard helicopter likely saved a man’s life last Friday when it flew backwards for five kilometres to Ísafjörður.

The dramatic manoeuvre was needed because of weather conditions in Ísafjörður, and doctors at the National Hospital of Iceland say that the helicopter crew’s decisive action likely saved the man’s life.

This story was first reported by Vísir.

Rough conditions

Conditions were extreme in Ísafjörður when the call for help came to Iceland’s coast guard last Friday, with wind ranging between 35 to 40 m/s, and little to no visibility.

Andri Jóhannesson, helicopter pilot in the coast guard, stated that the mission was one of the most difficult he had been a part of in his 15-year career.

Andri stated to Vísir that when the crew arrived in the Westfjords, wind conditions were so bad that it was not possible to fly straight into Ísafjörður like usual.

With a strong north-northwest wind, it would have been extremely dangerous to fly into the fjord, but nevertheless, the crew tried twice to fly into the fjord at a low altitude. However, the zero-visibility conditions made this impossible.

A hard decision

After these failed attempts, the crew was forced to make a roadside landing in order to assess the situation further.

When the crew took stock of the situation, it was clear that they were running low on fuel. The crew had flown in a stiff headwind all the way from Reykjavík, and the multiple attempts at entering the fjord had forced them to spend more time in the air than they had planned.

The crew would not be able to make it to Bolungarvík, a village near Ísafjörur, and the location of the patient. The crew would be forced to land in Ísafjörður to refuel and pick up the patient there.

Flying with their nose in the wind

Given the conditions, the crew realised they would not be able to fly the usual way, with the wind at their back, as it would be impossible to turn the helicopter to land in Ísafjörður. The decision was made to instead fly with “their nose in the wind,” that is, backwards, for a total of five kilometres.

This, however, was not the end of the drama. Given the low visibility, flight mechanic Árni Freyr had to lead the way. With the back of the helicopter open, Árni directed the final approach of the helicopter. In a harness and partially hanging out of the helicopter, Árni led the crew like this for some 20 minutes.

Upon landing in Ísafjörður and taking on the patient, the helicopter was forced to perform a “hot refuelling,” in which the engine stays on. Given the harsh winds, it may have been impossible to start the rotors again if the engine was turned off during the refuelling process.

A life saved

The patient, who had suffered a heart attack, was immediately sent into surgery upon arrival in Reykjavík, and doctors claim he would have died without the crew’s bravery.

The story, dramatic as it is, highlights the critical role played by emergency services in Iceland. Many remote parts of Iceland become largely inaccessible during the winter. Often, there is only one rescue helicopter on call, and there have been calls to increase funding to the coast guard and search and rescue services.

 

 

WWII Mortar Exploded in Controlled Detonation

The Coast Guard’s Explosives Unit was dispatched on Friday to detonate an unexploded British mortar that was found on Mt. Hlíðarfjall, just west of Akureyri, RÚV reports. The mortar dated back to World War II and was found not far from an area the British occupying forces used for training at the time.

The mortar was found by local teacher Brynjar Karl Óttarsson. “I found [it] last fall and immediately suspected that it was a bomb,” he explained. “I waited  [to report it] because winter was setting in but then I let [the authorities] know about it in the summer and they came yesterday. We went back up there and blasted that bomb to smithereens.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

Brynjar accompanied two Coast Guard specialists and an explosive expert from the British army to the site where the mortar was found and was allowed to observe the controlled detonation.

“Hlíðarfjall is now one mystery poorer, but also a safer place to be,” he wrote in a Facebook post about the experience.

“Dangerous explosive remnants have been found on the mountain in recent years,” wrote Brynjar Karl. “But this is the first unexploded bomb to pop up on Hlíðarfjall since I started making a habit of going there. The cylinder intact and the tail like new. Einu með öllu: ‘one with everything,’ as the saying goes.”

“I got to watch the ceremony that goes along with destroying such a troublesome artifact,” he continued. “Place it against a large rock, attach an explosive device, position yourself at a reasonable distance, relay messages via radio to the appropriate parties about the impending explosion, and then press the button. KABOOM.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

“I was shocked, to be honest. I figured on a sound, but not such a cacophony. Even the veteran jumped: ‘I never get used to this,’ said the Brit. The stillness and peace of the mountain of course magnified the din. The plume of smoke was not as magisterial. That bomb finally got to explode after 80 years. Mission accomplished and back down the mountain before dark.”

Asked if he thought it was possible that there were more unexploded bombs hidden on Hlíðarfjall, Brynjar Karl said it was quite possible, given the area’s history as a military training site. But the location where the mortar was found is well off the beaten track, he assured reporters, and quite a distance from the nearest ski area. Even so, caution is always the best policy, he said. “There’s always associated risk if you’re out in nature.”

Polar Bear Turned Out to Be a Seal

gray seal

Iceland’s Coast Guard sent a helicopter out on an unusual call yesterday afternoon when hikers in the Westfjords’ Hornstrandir Nature Reserve reported sighting a polar bear. While the white giants are not native to Iceland, they have been known to drift to the north coast on sea ice on rare occasions. Two Westfjords Police officers rode out with the helicopter, which was accompanied on the mission by search and rescue ship Gísli Jón.

The helicopter crew flew over Hornvík bay (where the sighting had been made) and the surrounding area, as well as spoke to the hikers, who were convinced that they had seen a polar bear.

A notice from Westfjords Police states: “No bear was found. The animal that the people believed was a polar bear seems to have been a large, white-coloured grey seal that had been spotted recently in Hornvík.”

Westfjords Police thanked the Coast Guard and ICE-SAR for their collaboration on the call out, adding: “Better safe than sorry.”

Seaman’s Association: Government’s Stalled Negotiations with Coast Guard Pilots “Unacceptable and Disgraceful”

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

The Icelandic Seaman’s Association has issued a strongly worded statement in support of Iceland’s Coast Guard pilots, calling the government’s delay in negotiations “unacceptable and disgraceful,” Mbl.is reports. The Coast Guard pilots have been without a contract since December 31, 2019.

‘A hopeless position’

As Iceland’s Coast Guard pilots have police powers, they are legally prohibited from going on strike, which puts them in “a hopeless position” when it comes to contract bargaining, says Sonja Bjarnadóttir Backman, a lawyer with the Icelandic Airline Pilots’ Association (FÍA). Per a statement issued by FÍA in April, Coast Guard pilots’ “labour agreements have historically been linked to CLAs of comparable professions, for the longest time through a statutory link, or until 2006.”

That arrangement is now under “vigorou[s] attack” by the Ministry of Finance, however, which FÍA says is pushing “a clear demand for a new, original wage agreement without links to comparable professions. This will not only affect pilot benefits but will also greatly increase staff turnover among the Coast Guard’s pilots.”

With “hundreds of millions of ISK” spent on training each pilot, high turnover amongst the Coast Guard’s pilots is clearly costly to the state monetarily, but also has the associated cost of lost experience and knowledge among the highly trained professionals who oversee rescue operations at sea. “Increased staff turnover is therefore quick to more than offset the disconnection of wages from comparable professions,” continues the FÍA statement.

The FÍA also takes issue with the Ministry of Finance’s desire to abolish the pilot’s seniority list, which it says is “one of the cornerstones of safety culture in aviation around the world.”

“This arrangement has proved successful, as such lists ensure transparency, professionalism, and that pilots can report incidents without fear of punishment. The Ministry has presented no objective arguments to support its position, and in fact the pilots’ negotiation committee has perceived a lack of professional knowledge and understanding of the unique position of the aviation industry in the negotiations.”

(Read the FÍA’s full “Resolution from the Pilots of the Icelandic Coast Guard here, in English.)

See Also: Coast Guard Helicopter Unmanned Due to Pilot Shortage

“It’s happened that there’s no helicopter available when needed,” continues to the statement issued by the Seaman’s Association. Indeed, due to staff illness, there was no helicopter available when a serious traffic accident occurred in South Iceland this week. Since it was not possible to man the helicopter crew, the injured person had to be transported by ambulance – making the trip one and a half hours longer than it would have been by helicopter.

According to Ásgeir Erlendsson, communications officer of the Icelandic Coast Guard, for two thirds of the year, the Coast Guard has two crews on call, but for one third of the year, there is just a single crew on duty. In the past, illness or other staffing challenges have been solved by calling in staff who were off duty. That was, however, not possible on the day of the accident in question.

This staffing shortage was denounced by the Minister of Justice, who wants to increase the number of helicopter pilots. But despite the Seaman’s Association’s later claims, this incident was said to be unrelated to the pilots’ ongoing wage dispute.

‘Ambulances of the sea’

The Seaman’s Association statement, which was cosigned by the Association of Ship Captains, the Association of Engineers and Metalworkers, and the Grindavík Seaman and Engineer Association, also drew particular attention to the fact that with only one helicopter on duty, it is not possible to rescue distressed sailors who are more than 20 nautical miles from land.

“If ships are outside the 20 nautical mile-mark,” reads the statement, “they have to sail to meet a helicopter with their injured or ill. Minutes matter in these cases—let alone hours.”

The Seaman’s Association presses the government to ensure that there are always two helicopters, or “ambulances of the sea” available, and concluded by saying that having only one helicopter on duty could have grave consequences for Icelandic and foreign fishermen alike.

Coast Guard Helicopter Unmanned Due to Pilot Shortage

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

For one third of the year, the Icelandic Coast Guard has only one helicopter crew on duty, RÚV reports. Yesterday morning the helicopter could not be manned to respond to a serious accident due to staff illness. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says the situation is unacceptable and wants to increase the number of helicopter pilots.

One or two crews on duty

A serious traffic accident occurred under the Eyjafjöll mountain range in South Iceland just after 11:00 AM yesterday morning. One person was in the car and they were transported to the National University Hospital in Reykjavík for treatment. Since it was not possible to man the helicopter crew, the injured person had to be transported by ambulance – making the trip one and a half hours longer than it would have been by helicopter.

Ásgeir Erlendsson, communications officer of the Icelandic Coast Guard, says that for two thirds of the year, the Coast Guard has two crews on call, but for one third of the year, there is just a single crew on duty. In the past, illness or other staffing challenges have been solved by calling in staff who were off duty. That was, however, not possible yesterday.

Plans to hire more pilots

The situation that occurred yesterday morning is not acceptable, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson told reporters. “Such incidents should not occur and we will try to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again,” he stated. Jón pointed out that the government budget outlines an increase in funding to the Coast Guard so that the number of shifts can be increased from six to seven. The government updated the helicopter fleet last year and the number of crews was increased from five to six. “It is no secret that with more crews it would be possible to increase the response capacity even further,” Ásgeir stated.

Unrelated to wage dispute

The Coast Guard’s pilots have been without a valid collective agreement for almost two and a half years. The pilots assert that complying with the Ministry of Finance’s requirements would impact aviation safety. The Ministry has denied those claims. The manning of the helicopter crew yesterday is unrelated to the wage dispute.

Four Bodies Located in Þingvallavatn Lake

plane crash

Icelandic Coast Guard divers and special forces have located four bodies in Þingvallavatn lake, Southwest Iceland, where a plane crashed last Thursday. The Cessna 172N sightseeing plane, carrying one Icelandic pilot and three passengers, went missing last week, prompting extensive search efforts that eventually detected the plane underwater, and now the bodies. Crews are preparing to recover the bodies and the aircraft but must wait for weather conditions to improve.

Robot submarine located bodies

Crews located the bodies last night with the help of a Teledyne Gavia robot submarine. One is located at a depth of 37 metres [121 feet], and the other three are located further below the lake’s surface. The aircraft is at a depth of 48 metres [157 feet], around 800 metres [2,625 feet] from the shoreline of the lake.

Divers were prepared to recover the bodies yesterday when weather conditions began to deteriorate rapidly. A notice from police stated that the recovery efforts were delayed in order to ensure divers’ safety. The recovery mission will be carried out as soon as weather allows.

Relatives thank rescue crews

The sightseeing plane went missing after setting out on a two-hour trip on Thursday morning. Icelander Haraldur Diego, known as Volcano Pilot, was piloting the aircraft, transporting three tourists from the US, Netherlands, and Belgium. After extensive search efforts involving around 1,000 people, the plane was located on Saturday in Þingvallavatn lake. Further search efforts revealed that there were no bodies inside the aircraft, prompting the submarine search. The cause of the crash remains unknown.

The four individuals’ relatives, who have been informed that the bodies have been found, have expressed their thanks to rescue workers for their efforts over the past few days. South Iceland Police also thanked everyone who has lent a hand in the search and recovery efforts, while acknowledging that there is still much work ahead.

The four victims of the crash have been named in local newspaper Fréttablaðið. They are Icelandic pilot Haraldur Diego (49), Nicola Bellavia (32, from Belgium), John Neuman (22, from the United States), and Tim Alings (27, from the Netherlands).

Huge Iceberg Near Westfjords Coast

iceberg Icelandic coast guard

The Icelandic Coast Guard went on an expedition yesterday to map sea ice, which has been prevalent off the coast of the Westfjords in recent weeks. Around 17 nautical miles from the coast, they came across a large iceberg, measuring 250 metres by 150 metres [820 by 492 feet]. A rescue worker was lowered onto the iceberg, after which the Coast Guard helicopter made a landing on it.

The map below shows the location of icebergs and sea ice, including the big iceberg, just north of the Westfjords, as they were encountered by the Cost Guard yesterday afternoon. Seafarers are encouraged to show caution in the area.

Icelandic Coast Guard. The largest iceberg, seen in the video above, is at the point marked furthest north.