Police investigate trawler’s Covid outbreakThe response to a Covid-19 outbreak on board Júlíus Geirmundsson ÍS-270 is now the subject of a police investigation. Photo: QB

Police in Iceland’s Westfjords district are interviewing crew and investigating as a criminal case a fishing company’s failure to respond to an outbreak of Covid-19 on board one of its vessels.

An outbreak of Covid-19 is believed to have occurred within days of Ísafjörður-registered factory trawler Júlíus Geirmundsson ÍS-270 sailing for its last trip, with several of the crew showing symptoms and being confined to cabins.

According to numerous media reports, operating company Hraðfyrstihús-Gunnvör did not comply with requests from health authorities for the trawler to return to port when it was suspected that there might be Covid-19 on board, and it was only during a port call for fuel some weeks into the trip that the crew were screened. Results the following day showed that the majority of the crew were infected, and Júlíus Geirmundsson was recalled.

There have been confusing statements from the owners and several of the crew have gone on record as saying that they were expected to continue working despite their illnesses, and that there were insufficient painkillers on board for all those who had fallen sick.

The company and the trawler’s officers have been criticised for failing to act sooner, failing to follow guidelines agreed between seamens’ unions and the vessel operator’s federation, and failing to notify the Coast Guard that there were instances of Covid-19 on board.

“The Westfjords Police Commissioner has decided to investigate the circumstances under which crew members of factory trawler Júlíus Geirmundsson were infected with Covid-19. Of the 25 crew on board, 22 were shown to be infected with Covid-19,” the local police authority stated.

“The investigation aims to collate information and evidence concerning the events around the infection and illness suffered by crew members.”

At this point no charges have been made.

“The company considers it clear that it would have been correct to inform the Coast Guard of suspected coronavirus cases on board, and to allow the authorities to assess whether it would have been correct to return the vessel to port. This would have been in accordance with the guidelines for such an occurrence, and which were agreed by SFS and seamens’ unions at the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this was not done and the company bears responsibility for these mistakes,” operating company Hraðfyrstihús-Gunnvör announced in a statement signed by managing director Einar Valur Kristjánsson.

“The company apologises sincerely to those concerned. It was never the intention of the company or the skipper to endanger the lives or the health of the crew and the company regrets receiving accusations of failing to ensure the health and safety of its staff. Before us is the task of supporting those crew who have fallen ill and rebuilding the loss of trust between the crew and the company.”

Júlíus Geirmundsson is currently docked in Ísafjörður.

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