Thousands of Cigarette Stubs Wash Up on East Iceland Beach

Svanbjörg Pálsdóttir. Cigarette stubs washed up on the beach in Eskifjörður, East Iceland, August 16, 2023

A resident of Eskifjörður, East Iceland was shocked to see thousands of cigarette stubs washed up on the shore of the fjord yesterday. It is unclear where the cigarette stubs came from but many residents speculate they were dumped by a passing ship. The stubs have since been cleaned by the municipality of Fjarðabyggð. RÚV reported first.

Svanbjörg Pálsdóttir went for a walk on the beach in Eskifjörður yesterday. At first she thought the yellow material dotting the rocks was seaweed but then realised it was thousands of cigarette butts. “Which ships are dumping this into the sea,” she asked in a Facebook post for residents of Eskifjörður, calling on authorities to look into the pollution and stop it from happening again.

Svanbjörg wrote to the municipality of Fjarðabyggð to alert them to the issue. The municipality reacted immediately and had the beach cleaned the same day. It is not clear whether authorities will investigate the source of the pollution at this stage.

Uncertainty Regarding Winter Mooring of Whaling Ships

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

Reykjavík’s City Council recently agreed to entrust the board of Associated Icelandic Ports (AIP) to find another place for the whaling company Hvalur’s fishing vessels, which have moored during the winter at the old harbour in Reykjavík for decades. A spokesperson for AIP has stated that the association has yet to receive the formal request from City Council.

Agreement reached by Reykjavík Council

On May 16, reported that the City Council of Reykjavík agreed to entrust the board of Associated Icelandic Ports (i.e. Faxaflóahafnir) to find another place for the fishing vessels of the whaling company Hvalur. For decades, the company’s vessels have docked in the middle of Reykjavík’s old harbour over the wintertime.

Líf Magneudóttir, City Council representative for the Left-Green Movement, originally submitted a proposal to entrust the board of Associated Icelandic Ports to revise or dismiss its contract with Hvalur regarding the mooring of the company’s whaling ships in the old harbour of Reykjavík (or, in another way, see to it that the whaling ships were found some other place to dock) as the old harbour in Reykjavík was a centre of tourism and whale watching.

Magnea Gná Jóhannsdóttir, City Council fepresentative of the Progressive Party, subsequently submitted an amendment to the proposal wherein the board of Associated Icelandic Ports Faxaflóhafnar was entrusted with finding a different docking place for the vessels. That amended proposal was approved with 16 votes and 5 abstentions.

Official request expected to arrive soon

Yesterday, port manager Gunnar Tryggvason told Fiskifréttir that a formal request had not been received by Associated Icelandic Ports although he expected the request to arrive soon. Fiskifréttir also quotes Haraldur Benediktsson, Mayor of Akranes, as saying that the vessels would be well received by Akranes – were it not for the fact that the town’s harbour lacked the necessary infrastructure (i.e. a hot-water pipe, akin to the one in the old harbour in Reykjavík, which has long been used to heat the whaling ships in winter and to prevent the formation of mildew).

The article notes that Hvalur could moor its vessels at a port outside the Associated Icelandic Ports; such a thing could prove a significant windfall for the receiving port. “It would be possible to move the ships to other ports owned by Faxaflóahafnir: Sundahöfn and Akranes, for example. But that possibility has not been discussed,” Gunnar observed. “We are waiting for the request to be received officially, but it is no problem on the part of Associated Icelandic Ports to take this matter into consideration.”

Possible alternatives

As noted in the article, the harbour in Hafnarfjörður could serve as a possible alternative because it is not much further from Hafnarfjörður to whaling grounds, or to the whale processing in Hvalfjörður.

Gunnar also noted that berthing space in the Sundahöfn harbour could soon become available as it appears likely that the now-defunct patrol ships Týr and Ægir would depart from the harbour soon. The patrol ships were constructed in 1975 and 1968 and were sold to the company Fagri last year. The berth will quickly be used for other purposes, however, with Gunnar observing that the aim is for Sundahöfn to be the future berthing site of tugboats of the Associated Icelandic Ports.

The only steam-powered vessels in Iceland

As noted by the article on Fiskifréttir, the upcoming summer whaling operations will utilise two ships, namely Hvalur 8 and Hvalur 9, both of which were constructed in Norway in 1948 and 1952, respectively. Within Hvalfjörður, there are two additional whaling vessels, Hvalur 5 and Hvalur 6, primarily used for spare parts. These four ships constitute the only registered vessels in the Icelandic fleet equipped with steam engines. The steam boilers on these ships are heated using oil, powering engines that generate approximately 2,000 horsepower.

As previously reported by Iceland Review, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has stated that it is not possible to halt whaling this season, despite a report showing that the practice is not in line with legislation on animal welfare.

Is there an article about the Icelandic passenger ship that was sunk in 1944 by a U-boat?

godafoss icelandic ship ww2

On November 10, 1944, a German U-boat sank Goðafoss, an Icelandic passenger ship, just outside Reykjavík harbour, leading to the deaths of  24 people. We haven’t written about the event itself, but we have, however, covered the reception history of an interesting book about the event, called “Útkall: Árás á Goðafoss,” or “SOS: Attack on the Goðafoss.” 

Published in 2003 by Óttar Sveinsson, it attracted international attention and has been translated into multiple languages. Notably, when it was translated into German, a special press conference was held at the Frankfurt book fair, in which an Icelandic survivor from the attack and a former U-Boat crew member met and reconciled. After the German translation attracted some attention, a documentary was even made about the event in Germany. 

While the Goðafoss may certainly be the most notorious U-boat attack from an Icelandic perspective, it was certainly not the only one to affect Icelanders. Because of Iceland’s important position between Europe and North America, many wartime convoys passed through Iceland. Icelandic vessels were very careful to fly the Icelandic flag to signal their neutrality, but some eight Icelandic vessels were nevertheless attacked and sunk by U-boats during the war.

Czech Artist Converts Ship’s Wheelhouse into ‘Cultural Kiosk’ in Seyðisfjörður

A ship’s wheelhouse dating back to 1969 is getting a new life as a piece of public art cum snack stand in the East Iceland village of Seyðisfjörður, RÚV reports. The project, dubbed KIOSK 108, is the brainchild of Czech artist Monika Fryčová, who decided to turn her attentions outward during lockdown and find a way to make a meaningful contribution to the local community. The plan? To take an abandoned ship’s wheelhouse and convert it into a ‘cultural kiosk.’

“When the COVID situation came, I thought it’s very useless for me to sit behind [my] computer and wait [to get] sick,” Monika explained. “So, I start[ed] to think about how I can make public art for outsiders and local people, to make something meaningful with this object.”

Screenshot, RÚV

Monika plans to serve light meals and drinks from the converted wheelhouse, including fish soup, hot dogs, coffee, and beer. She’s using old timber to build a small bar inside the cabin where people can sit and look out the window onto the fjord. She’s also plans to create a kid’s corner for children to play in and have a stage on the roof where musicians and artists can perform.

Monika is selling KIOSK 108 stickers and t-shirts to raise money for the project, which has also received a grant from Uppbyggingarsjóður Austurlands, the East Iceland Development Fund.

Watch Monika’s interview with RÚV (in English) here; and another video she made about KIOSK 108, here.

Eimskip Responds to Ship Disposal Scandal

Eimskip goðafoss laxafoss

Shipping company Eimskip has issued a statement in response to an investigation that revealed their former ships were sent to a scrapyard in India where environmental and human rights violations are rampant. In the document, the company states its belief that it “complied with laws and regulations” regarding the sale of the ships, and pointed to their buyer as responsible for the decision to recycle them outside of Europe.

Investigation Alleges Eimskip Circumvented European Law

Icelandic news program Kveikur recently investigated how Eimskip had divested itself of two old container vessels. The investigation revealed that the company had sold the ships to a notorious middleman known for sending such vessels to shipbreaking yards in Southeast Asia. At least 137 people have died breaking down old ships in the coastal town of Alang, where Eimskip’s two vessels ended up. Kveikur’s investigative journalists allege that Eimskip’s sale of the ships was carried out in full knowledge of where they would end up and constitutes a circumventing of European law.

Read More: Circumvented European Law to Dispose of Ships in India

Eimskip Says Buyer is Responsible

In the statement, Eimskip denies it sold the ships with the knowledge they would end up as scrap in India, and the “sale of the vessels was not an action by the Company to profit from higher recycling prices in other parts of the world.”

“Although the company believes that it complied with laws and regulations in the sale process, it is clear that the Company could have made greater requirements towards the buyer in light of the age of the vessels,” Eimskip’s statement reads. “That could be done by including a provision in the sales contract that if the vessels should be recycled, it would be done in a recycling yard that complies with European standards. Eimskip apologizes for not doing so.”

The statement adds that Eimskip’s board and executive management hope to “learn from the incident,” and that the company will review its processes to “develop a clearer policy” in the divestment of its vessels.

The full statement is available in English.

Circumvented European Law to Dispose of Ships in India

Eimskip goðafoss laxafoss

Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, one of the largest businesses in the country, used a notorious middleman to dispose of two huge container vessels in India. In doing so, it circumvented European regulation meant to ensure that ships are recycled with the least possible damage to the environment. At least 137 people have died breaking down old ships on the coast where Eimskip sent its old container vessels due to dangerous working conditions. Icelandic news program Kveikur investigated the case.

Once their life on the sea is over, ships are immediately classified as hazardous waste due to the materials they contain, such as asbestos, radioactive materials, heavy metals, and hydraulic oil. European ship recycling facilities have measures in place to ensure such materials are recycled or disposed of safely, with as little damage as possible to the environment and to workers. Such is far from the case in shipbreaking yards in Southeast Asia, where dangerous working conditions and environmental damage are par for the course. This is where Eimskip sent two huge container vessels, Goðafoss and Laxafoss.

The full program is available on Kveikur’s website with English subtitles.

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, 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.”


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.

New Icelandic Port to Link Asia, Europe, and US

Representatives of Langanesbyggð and Vopnafjarðarhreppur municipalities, German company Bremenports, and engineering firm Efla sign a contract today for the construction of a new harbour in Finnafjörður fjord, Northeast Iceland. RÚV reports that the harbour is intended to be an international container port connecting Asia, Europe, and the eastern United States.

The area covered by the port measures some 1,300 hectares (3,200 acres) and includes 6km of wharves. The project, which has been in development for several years, recently received ISK 18 million ($150,000/€133,000) in funding from the Ministry of Transport and Local Government.

The port’s realisation is a long-term venture, expected to take decades to design and build.

Sea Ice Approaches Icelandic Coast

sea ice

Sea ice is fast approaching the Westfjords of Iceland and could close shipping lanes close to shore, reports. The sea ice spread is just short of 12 nautical miles from Horn on the Westfjords. Little to no sea ice has been seen in the area in recent years, as specific weather circumstances have led to this rarity.

“Unusual weather circumstances have played their part in getting the sea ice so unusually close to shore”, commented Teitur Arason, a meteorologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office. A high pressure zone has been in place south of the country since last Wednesday. Furthermore, a steady southwesterly wind direction has pushed the ice towards the Westfjords, along with the current which flows in the same direction. The ice has been flowing at a pace of 10 nautical miles per day in the areas most affected by the weather.

It is expected that the southwesterly winds will last until Friday, so the sea ice is expected to advance closer to the coast. It is possible that the ice closes shipping lanes close to shore. The Icelandic Coast Guard has warned seafarers of this unusual situation.

The image above is from the Volcanology and Natural Disasters Group of the University of Iceland, which also provides updates in English. The sea ice position reflects the status on the 1st of June, the dotted line reflects the 3rd of June, and the solid line represents the status yesterday.