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Growing fears that cruise ship traffic off the Westfjords could cause an environmental catastrophe

By Staff

  • At Látrabjarg Travellers take smaller boats from cruise ships to view the bird colony up close. Photo/Jón Pétursson

Landowners at Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords fear that growing numbers of cruise ships which visit the cliffs, sailing close to the shore and sending travellers on smaller boats right up to the cliffs, pose a serious environmental threat to the cliffs. A large scale accident and catastrophe is waiting to happen, they fear.

A site of great significance
Látrabjarg has immense value. It is the westernmost point of Iceland and Europe. The dramatic 441 m (1447 ft) tall cliffs stretch for 14 km (8.7 mi), is the largest seaside cliff in Iceland, and the largest bird cliff in Europe. It is are home to seabirds, including puffins, northern gannets, guillemots and razorbills. It has been estimated that 40% of the world population of razorbills lives in Látrabjarg.

Read more: French cruise ship breaks customs laws, lets passengers into protected wilderness preserve

Látrabjarg
Látrabjarg The cruise ships sail too close to shore, the landowners argue. Photo/Jón Pétursson

The landowners have asked the Icelandic Environmental agency to declare the cliffs a protected site, which would ensure that cruise ships and other traffic would have to keep at a distance. The agency and the Ministry of the Environment are currently working on the protection order, but some fear it might come too late.

Growing traffic of cruise ships
The primary fear is that oil might leak from ships sailing close to the cliffs: "The nature of the area is such that if there is an oil leak it will be impossible to clean up the oil. The more ships pass through, the greater the risk that an accident takes place," a spokesman for the landowners told the local news site Vísir

Four or five cruise ships sail past Látrabjarg each week, often very close to the cliffs. The landowners fear that this proximity of polluting and loud ships can cause disruption to the bird colonies in the cliffs. "We need to face the fact that this traffic has become quite heavy. It disrupts all animal life at the site, the birds and seals and everything else - it should be plain as day."

The landowners want all traffic by cruise ships to be banned within two nautical miles from the coast, and that any traffic by smaller boats, including zodiac boats, to be subject to strict regulation and permits. The new rules should not impact fishing vessels.

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