Five Unions Press Charges Against Fishing Company following COVID Outbreak On Board

Júlíus Geirmundsson

Five unions are joining forces to press charged against a captain and fishing company for keeping a crew of 25 at sea for three weeks despite a COVID-19 outbreak on board, RÚV reports. Twenty-three of the 25 crew members became infected by the novel coronavirus in the outbreak, many developing serious symptoms. The ship stayed out at sea for several weeks contrary to guidelines from authorities and many ill crew members kept working.

The five unions are pressing charges against the captain of the freezer trawler Júlíus Geirmundsson, on which the incident occurred, as well as against the fishing company that runs the ship, Hraðfrystihúsið Gunnvör. The unions are also asking the Westfjords District Court to order a so-called “maritime inquiry” (sjópróf), a type of formal investigation conducted on incidents at sea. The purpose of such an inquiry is to determine the causes of the event in question and whether the shipowner, captain, or crew were criminally liable.

Read More: Fishing Company Under Fire for Keeping COVID-19 Infected Crew at Sea

“This is really a request for a police investigation of the case to the Westfjords Chief of Police and a request to the District Court to conduct a maritime inquiry on the case to find out what really happened on board and why and if necessary who is responsible,” stated Valmundur Valmundsson, chairman of one of the unions.

Karl Ingi Vilbergsson, Chief of Westfjords Police, stated yesterday that his aim was to finish interviewing all general crew members that day. The investigation’s next steps would be decided after that. He told reporters: “This is a grave matter and I don’t think we can live with it any other way than by getting to the bottom of it.”

The five unions are Verkalýðsfélag Vestfirðinga, Sjómannafélag Íslands, Félag skippersmanna, Félag vélstjóra og máltæknimanna, and Sjómannasamband Íslands.

The CEO of Hraðfyrstihúsið Gunnvör has responded to the incident, with a statement and interview that have been called contradictory.

Iceland to Permit Limited Home Slaughter This Fall

Icelandic sheep

Home slaughter of lambs will be permitted in Iceland this fall as a pilot project, RÚV reports. Meat from the lambs will be tested to ensure quality and safety standards are met. The project is expected to support innovation in the sheep farming industry and help farmers hold on to more of the profits from their lamb.

The pilot project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the National Association of Sheep Farmers (Landssamtak sauðfjárbænda), and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). Sheep farmers in Iceland are only permitted to slaughter and butcher lambs at home for their own consumption – any lamb that will be sold must be sent to a slaughterhouse. If the farmers then want to sell the meat themselves, they must pay a fee to do so.

Þröstur Heiðar Erlingsson, a sheep farmer in Skagafjörður, North Iceland, is supportive of the project. According to Þröstur, home slaughtering produces better quality meat, as the process is slower and the meat has more time to hang and become tender than in an industrial slaughterhouse. When farmers take their meat home from a slaughterhouse, they also receive neither the skin nor the offal. “We could make ourselves a lot more food out of this if we got to sell it ourselves and process it ourselves,” he stated.

Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson has expressed support for the initiative. The Ministry is ensuring home slaughter regulation can comply with international agreements that Iceland is party to.