Various catastrophes have befallen the island and its inhabitants throughout history. Death at sea was a common trauma for the families on the island especially with the weather being rougher and more ferocious on and near Vestmannaeyjar than other places in the country. With improved ships and additional prevention methods, accidents and deaths at sea have greatly decreased, becoming comparatively rare. The islanders have also been some of the main originators and promoters of safety and rescue standards. For example they initiated the placement of rubber rafts aboard the fishing vessels as life boats and it was also an islander who invented a special self-release technique for the rafts. The islanders also bought and maintained the first search and rescue and patrol ship in the Icelandic fleet.
Probably the most tragic incident to take place on the island was the Algerian pirate raid in July of 1627. The pirates landed on Heimaey and proceeded to pillage and plunder, burning farms, houses and the church, and killing or kidnapping 242 of the island’s 500 inhabitants. Those who were kidnapped were transported to the slave market in Algeria and most of them were never able to return to Iceland. Some died along the way; others could not adjust to the conditions of slavery, and a few eventually started new lives in the world of their captives. The inhabitants who escaped the pirates during the attack had hidden in caves and at cliffs along the ocean. Many place names on the island are reminiscent of this terrifying attack, such as Pirates’ Bay and Hundred Man Cave. It is said that 100 people hid here, though they were eventually discovered by the pirates because of a dog that had been waiting outside the cave. One woman, Guðríður Símonardóttir, sometimes called Turkish Gudda from Stakkagerði in Vestmannaeyjar is probably the most famous of the captives. She was one of the few who was released from captivity and returned to Iceland, though she never returned to Vestmannaeyjar. She married the poet and author of the Icelandic psalms, Hallgrímur Pétursson who served as a priest in Suðurnes and Hvalfjörður.