Attacked by the Luftwaffe, Still Leaking Oil, Concrete Poured Into the Hull to Plug the Leak

Credit: www.dive.is Icelands premier dive tours
Credit: www.dive.is Icelands premier dive tours

Icelandic authorities are confident that recent work done on the SS El Grillo wreck will stem the constant leakage of oil that is responsible for damaging the fragile ecosystems in the waters of Seyðisfjörður.

SS El Grillo was a steam-ship built at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne by Armstrong W. G. & Whitworth Co. Ltd., on behalf of The Bowring Steamship Company of Liverpool.

When World War II broke out, she was converted to a Defensively Equipped Merchant Vessel and armed with one 4-inch Medium Calibre Gun, and one 12-pounder High Angle Quick Fire Medium Calibre Gun. She was also given 4 Oerlikon 20 mm Cannons to be used to defend the ship from aircraft.

SS El Grillo
SS El Grillo

On 10th February 1944, the SS El Grillo, carrying around 2,000 tons of bunker oil intended to refuel Naval vessels, was anchored in the harbor of Seyðisfjörður.

She was attacked by three Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condors, flying out of neighboring, occupied Norway, and severely damaged. To prevent further attacks and to save the other ships in the harbor, the captain decided to scuttle the El Grillo.

She ended up lying almost upright at the bottom of the fjord. Her highest point being some 28 meters underwater and her lowest point resting at around 45 meters.

Unfortunately, as time went by, she started to leak oil, which caused damage to the fjord’s pristine waters and coated seabirds inhabiting the area.

Early in the 2000s, the government of Iceland awarded a Norwegian contractor to remove the thousands of tons of oil that went down with the ship. They were also tasked with removing any unexploded ammunition that had not been looted by sport divers.

The SS El Grillo was sunk just off the coast of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland during a German air raid in February 1944 and oil began leaking into the bay shortly after that. Credit: www.icelandreview.com
The SS El Grillo was sunk just off the coast of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland during a German air raid in February 1944 and oil began leaking into the bay shortly after that. Credit: www.icelandreview.com

The contractor removed as much of the oil as possible but could not get all of it out, and an estimated 10 to 15 tons were left behind. The wreck continued to sporadically leak oil, causing a great deal of damage to the environment and the fjord’s wildlife.

The worst leaks occurred this year, and the Icelandic authorities had no option but to again spend 38 million Icelandic Krona (US$280,000), to permanently put a stop to the leakage.

Efforts were made to pump oil from SS El Grillo in 1952 and 2001, but the leaking has continued intermittently.
Efforts were made to pump oil from SS El Grillo in 1952 and 2001, but the leaking has continued intermittently.

The task was given to the Icelandic Coast Guard and divers from the Coast Guard’s Special Operations Unit, and the crew of the Coast Guard Vessel Thor worked to fill the corroded hull of the El Grillo with concrete, in hopes that the concrete would permanently plug the leaks.

Seven divers, from Reykjavik, worked to pour the concrete sent down from a barge, and on the 15th May 2020, they completed the task of filling the hull with concrete. A careful eye will be kept on the wreck, and frequent checks will be carried out to ensure that the leakage of oil has been stopped.

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The wreck is a top-rated dive site for many sport divers. The work done to encase the remains of the hull with concrete will not detract from the site. Sport divers will still be able to enjoy diving on the wreck and admiring all the sea life that now calls the El Grillo home.