From Iceland — Efforts To Stem Oil Spill From British WW2 Tanker Wrecked In Seyðisfjörður

Efforts To Stem Oil Spill From British WW2 Tanker Wrecked In Seyðisfjörður

Published April 20, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
John Rogers

The Icelandic government has approved measures to tackle a spillage from a British oil tanker wrecked in Seyðisfjörður in 1944. The project is estimated to cost 38 million ISK.

El Grillo, a British oil tanker was attacked by German fighter planes in February 1944 during the Second World War. There were no casualties in the attack, but the ship sustained considerable damage and the captain made the decision to sink the tanker to stop it being a target for German air attacks. An Allied naval base was situated in Seyðisfjörður during the war, whilst Iceland was occupied by Britain and then the U.S., but the nation remained neutral during the conflict. The wrecked ship lies on the bottom of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland and has been sporadically leaking oil into the fjord from its ruined hull for over 75 years.

The Icelandic Parliament approved the Minister for Evironment, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson’s request for 38 million ISK (€242,737) in order to stem the oil spill on April 17th. A statement on the government website states that the hull will be sealed with concrete to prevent further leakage. A valve will also be fitted so that oil can be extracted in the future. The works are planned to begin in a couple of weeks and the project will be overseen by the Coast Guard. Research shows that higher sea temperatures cause greater amounts of oil to leak so it is imperative that work begins before the summer.

Efforts to contain the oil spill have had limited success in the past. In 1952 and again in 2001 engineers attempted to pump oil out of the tanker, but just 60 tonnes of oil were removed and an estimated 10-15 tonnes remain in the tanker. The issue came to the public’s attention once again last October when a routine dive by the Icelandic Coast Guard revealed that El Grillo’s hull had corroded, causing considerable oil leakage into the ocean. The ship is only expected to become more damaged with time so swift action is required to protect the fjord.

The Ministry for Environment states that urgent action is required to mitigate the oil leakage’s effect on the environment. The oil is harming birds in the fjord and is damaging local beaches. In an interview with RÚV in August 2019, Rúnar Gunnarsson, chief port security officer explained that the oil was particularly harmful for young birds, including eider ducklings and that many have died.

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