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Samherji – seafood markets have changed drastically. Fresh seafood markets have changed drastically in just two weeks, and exports of fresh fish are only about a quarter of what they were before the Covid-19 pandemic began. There is also uncertainty about how markets will develop in the near future, according to Iceland based integrated seafood giant Samherji.

These issues are raised in a letter by Mr Kristján Vilhelmsson, Samherji’s managing director of ships operations, to the crews of vessels in the company’s fishing fleet. Kristján encourages seafarers in the letter, saying that Samherji has always been able to rely on fishermen to deliver regardless of circumstances. He also examines the multifaceted effects the Covid-19 pandemic has had on Samherji’s operations and how staff have adapted to changes that have been undertaken as a result of demands to prevent the spread of the disease.

Mr Vilhelmsson‘s letter is below.

Letter to fishermen on Samherji’s ships

The current situation is something never before seen and far from what we have ever imagined would happen. We can only hope that this will be over as soon as possible.

It is everyone’s social responsibility to do anything to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and we have no other advice than the ones we get from the authorities, the Chief Epidemiologist and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management. These offices have provided guidance on how we can best do about cleanliness and human interaction during the pandemic, which seeks to reduce the number of people coming together and therefore to reduce the number of pathways of infection. This information is available online e.g. at: www.covid.is

t the same time, life must go on, and companies must continue their operation. Samherji’s owners and employees have tried to abide by the instructions of the Civil Protection, and the fish processing operations have therefore been disrupted. With numerous new rules of conduct, with increased cleaning, with staff separation, with a visiting ban, with selection and minimization of repairs/maintenance, with a complete shuffle in the canteen, with different arrival and departure times at the workplace, with recommendations for trips to and from work, with recommendations for lifestyle and behaviour outside of working hours and with the installation of walls in processing rooms to reduce proximity.

This week things went even further in UA and Dalvík, and operations were reduced by almost half, with only 50% of staff working at the same time (employees work every other day). All this is done according to rules to reduce the likelihood of transmission so workers can perform tasks assigned to them with the utmost safety.

A ship is a workplace where the crewmembers are very close to each other, so you have to think of the best solutions. In itself, there is no risk of infection at sea as long as no one is infected. Because of this proximity, the idea was brought up that the crew could be in some kind of quarantine on board for as long as possible, thus reducing the likelihood of transmission. How long that time will be is entirely up to the crew; this is a new idea that came up as an experiment in the fight against this pandemic and seemed to make some sense. We are aware that this is not easy for many and maybe especially because it is not a tradition to take many tours in a row without going ashore in between trips. With this setup, we believe there is an increased likelihood that you will be able to keep the vessels longer in operation and thus your income.

Our markets have changed drastically in two weeks, and further changes are not foreseeable at all, but they will unfortunately happen. Similarly, we have had to implement changes in fish processing. Fresh exports have fallen to as much as 25% of what they were before and what will happen in the next few weeks is uncertain. The volume also fluctuates, so it is often difficult to determine in advance how much we can fish. It comes down to you, and we have always been able to count on you to deliver in the value chain.

Samherji’s goal is to do what is possible to keep employees safe from infection while protecting their jobs at the same time. It is only possible with a synchronized effort. This way, we believe we can return to normal operations when the pandemic is over, and no customers overseas will have forgotten us.