Iceland Mag

7 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Travel

Coast Guard boards whaling boats suspected of illegal “whaling tourism”

By Staff

  • Sperm Whale Authorities are investigating whether whale hunters are engaging in illegal "whaling tourism", charging customers for "whale watching" trips onboard whaling vessels. Photo/Már Höskuldsson.

The Coast Guard boarded whaling vessels on two occasions last week on suspicion the boats were transporting passengers. The Metropolitan Police similarly boarded a whaling vessel in the harbour in Hafnarfjörður, a municipality in the Capital region, south of Reykjavík to investigate suspicion the whaling vessel had been transporting passengers in violation of the law. María Björk Gunnarsdóttir, a spokesman for IceWhale the Icelandic Whale Watching Association believes the whaling companies are engaged in illegal “whaling tourism”.

Illegal passengers onboard whaling boats
The local newspaper Fréttatíminn reports that a spokesman for the Coast Guard has confirmed that on three separate occasions during last week authorities boarded whaling vessels. On two occasions by South-West Iceland by the coast guard and then on Friday night, when the Metropolitan Police boarded a whaling boat in Hafnarfjörður. In all cases the authorities were investigating suspicion the vessels were carrying illegal passengers. “I can confirm that in every case the boats were carrying people who were not members of the crew,” the spokesman told Fréttatíminn. The authorities are now investigating whether laws were broken.

Boats carrying paying passengers must pass an inspection, all crewmembers have to have been specifically trained to assist passengers in case of an accident at sea and the boat and every passenger must be insured. The whaling boats and their crews are not certified for carrying passengers, nor do they carry the requisite insurance.

“Whaling tourism”
A few years ago Icelandic minke whale hunters discussed offering tours where travellers could participate in whale hunting trips, watching as whales were hunted and killed. María, who monitored the travels of the whaling boat on the Marine Traffic website, told Fréttatíminn she doubted any animals were killed during the voyage on Friday as it is illegal to “turning the killing of animals into entertainment” as Fréttatíminn puts it.

“We at the whale watching federation would of course prefer that the whaling vessels were used for sightseeing tours than to hunt whales, but this is a question of having the correct permits.”

She adds that the fact that whalers are moving into tourism as a side employment suggests minke whale hunting is not profitable on its own.

According to a post to a Facebook group of employees in the Icelandic tourism industry the travellers on-board the whaling vessel which was boarded on Friday were Eastern European, and they were being picked up by a vehicle from a travel company specializing in luxury travel and servicing wealthier travellers. 

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