It is alleged that the shipping company Hraðfrystihúsið Gunnvör forbade the crew of the Júlíus Geirmundsson from discussing the COVID-19 outbreak onboard the ship with the media. But a crew member has now come forward for an interview with RUV.
Despite the company’s ban, and threats towards job security should word get out, Arnar Hilmarsson said in the interview: “My expression on the matter is infinitely more valuable than my work on board.”
22 of the 25 crew members on board the ship developed symptoms of COVID-19 and were made to work for three weeks despite varying levels of sickness. The youngest crew member is 19 and the oldest are in their seventies.
“The one who got the sickest is one of the toughest people I know, and he allowed himself to work, sick, for three shifts,” Arnar said. “Then he became so ill he couldn’t possibly work any more. It was so hard to watch him be moved into the infirmary.” He also stated in the interview that HG’s reactions to the outbreak is indicative of the company’s behaviour towards health and safety in the past.
”We did not know what COVID-19 was”
The chief engineer on the Júliús Geirmundsson, Þór Ólafur Helgason, says that he did not notice that many of the crew became very ill and denies that people were sent to work sick.
“It was not like that,” he said. “These are not slave camps. There was no one sent to work sick.”
Einar Valur Kristjánsson, the managing director of HG, apologised for mistakes made by the company in handling the infection, stating that the company’s management did not “know” COVID-19. “This is new,” he stated in an interview with Vísir. “Nobody knew this COVID. We did not know what it was. It came in March and we did not know it. I’m not saying we don’t know what COVID is now. Of course, according to the rules of procedure, we were supposed to report this to the Coast Guard, but this was not done. It was never the intention of the shipping company or the captain to endanger heath or life.”
Company denies media ban
Einar Valur also denies that the crew was forbidden to speak to the media, saying, “This is a serious matter and we would like to send a special message to our employees, just an apology on the issue. We hope that they recover soon.”
Of the 22 crew members diagnosed, 13 are still sick. Police in the Westfjords are now considering an investigation into the company’s activities.