Saturday flights in BA livery confirmed for St Helena

A Boeing 737-800 of the kind that will fly to St Helena. Picture courtesy of Comair Ltd

A Boeing 737-800 of the kind that will fly to St Helena. Picture courtesy of Comair Ltd

Weekly flights between St Helena and Johannesburg will operate every Saturday, the island’s government has confirmed. Comair Ltd has signed a contract to operate the service with a dedicated Boeing 737-800 aircraft in British Airways livery. It will offer both business class and economy seating on the five-hour flight.

Construction of the island’s first airport is due for completion by 26 February 2016.

The Mantis group has also been named as the preferred bidder to run a new hotel being set up by the island government at numbers 1 to 2, Main Street in Jamestown.

St Helena Government has issued the following question-and-answer guide:

Q. Who is Comair? 

A. Comair is a commercial airline that has successfully operated in South Africa since 1946. It is best known for operating British Airways flights in the Southern African region, and for its low cost airline, kulula.com.

Q. Why choose this airline? 

A. Comair is an established airline with a long and successful history, and was chosen as St Helena’s air service provider following a comprehensive tender process. Comair will provide unparalleled access for Saints to the outside world with links through Johannesburg to London, Paris, Frankfurt, New York, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Hong Kong, Sydney and many more international and regional destinations.

Q. Where are they headquartered? 

A. Comair’s headquarters are in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Q. What does the agreement with Comair commit them to? 

A. The agreement commits Comair to providing a weekly service each Saturday from Johannesburg to St Helena and back. The aircraft will be capable of carrying up to 120 passengers and a limited amount of cargo.

Q. What term does the agreement stipulate? 

A. The agreement will be for an initial period of three years, with potential for up to two extensions of two years each, giving a maximum term of up to seven years.

Q. When will the air service to St Helena commence? 

A. The first scheduled flight from Johannesburg to St Helena is earmarked for late February 2016. Naturally, this date is dependent on the final certification and operational readiness of St Helena Airport.

Q. Which aircraft type will Comair use for St Helena services? 

A. Comair proposes to use a brand new Boeing 737-800 aircraft, fitted out in British Airways livery.

Q. Can Comair carry special needs passengers, including wheelchair customers and stretcher cases? 

A. Yes, Comair provides for the carriage of special needs passengers, including but not limited to wheelchairs, unaccompanied minors and customers with other special needs.

Comair will provide for the transportation of Medivac cases, stretcher cases through the certification process, updating its policies for this specific route accordingly.

Q. Does this mean that patients will now be treated in Johannesburg? 

A. This is still being considered and it is too early to say at this point. Johannesburg has world class hospitals, and this will need to be weighed against transferring patients on a short connecting flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

Further information will follow.

Q. When will the first Comair test flight take place? 

A. Any requirement for test flights will be set by the regulator. Comair will develop a flight simulator for St Helena to assist with pilot training.

Q. Is a visa required to visit St Helena? 

A. No, but visitors to St Helena will wish to view the SHG website at http://www.sainthelena.gov.sh

Flights 

Q. What will be the Hub? 

A. Flights will originate from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. OR Tambo Airport is the main international airport in South Africa and provides much better connections to other destinations than the smaller Cape Town Airport can offer.

Q. How many flights per week? 

A. Initially flights will be once a week. Increased frequency will be considered if there is sufficient demand.

Q. Has the flight schedule been finalised? 

A. The exact timing of the flight schedule is still under discussion, but there will be an early morning departure from Johannesburg to St Helena, a one hour turnaround time in St Helena and an arrival into Johannesburg in the early evening. This timing will allow seamless connections to a range of international destinations

Q. What is the flight time between Johannesburg and St Helena? 

A. The flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena is estimated at five and a half hours and from St Helena to Johannesburg at four hours and forty five minutes. The difference in times is caused by the normal prevailing winds.

Q. How many passengers can the aircraft accommodate? 

A. The aircraft has a full seating capacity of around 162 seats, but the number of passengers on flights to and from St Helena is likely to be limited to around 120, due to weight requirements when landing at St Helena Airport.

Q. How much cargo can the aircraft carry? 

A. The aircraft has no palletised cargo capability, but a limited amount of cargo can be loaded by hand. But depending on the number of passengers, the aircraft can carry from around one tonne to around five tonnes of cargo.

Q. What will my baggage allowance be? 

A. Club Class (Business) – 2 bags @ up to 23kg each

Traveller Class (Economy) – 1 bag @ up to 23kg

Q. What will be the flight turnaround time at St Helena Airport? 

A. It will take approximately one hour to turn around the flight at St Helena Airport and return to Johannesburg.

Q. What day of the week will flights operate? 

A. Comair will provide a single weekly return flight on a Saturday.

Q. Will passengers from St Helena be able to catch connecting flights at Johannesburg on the same day? 

A. Yes.

For inbound flights to St Helena, and depending on passengers’ time of arrival in Johannesburg, overnight accommodation may be necessary. There are a number of hotels within minutes of OR Tambo airport.

Q. When will bookings open for sale and where can I buy my tickets? 

A. Bookings will open for sale towards the end of this year, 2015. A ticket can be purchased by a variety of means, including ba.com, Comair’s call centre and international and online travel agencies. Arrangements will also be put in place for purchase on St Helena. Further details on purchase options will be available later this year.

Q. Is there any guidance on the price of a return ticket between Johannesburg and St Helena? 

A. SHG, in consultation with Comair, is in the process of determining the final pricing structures. The aim is to provide very competitive prices for Saints and visitors wishing to travel to and from St Helena.

Indicative return ticket prices are estimated to be around £500 to £600. But this is subject to agreement and confirmation following discussions between Comair and SHG. And ticket prices will vary, as is normal, subject to time of booking, demand and seasonal variations.

Q. What if I want to take a particular item on the plane? 

A. This will be guided by the conditions of carriage of Comair. We will be publishing general guidance prior to tickets going on sale.

Other 

Q. Will there be services to Ascension Island? 

A. It is unlikely that Comair will provide services to Ascension Island, due to a combination of reasons, including aircraft availability and the hours that pilots are allowed to fly. The Ascension Island Government is currently looking at options for separate provision of return services from St Helena to Ascension.

More information on this will follow.

Q. Will this mean that Saints on Ascension and the Falklands will need to travel to the UK then to Johannesburg before they can travel to St Helena? 

A. This would be the route if anyone on Ascension or the Falkland Islands chose to use the scheduled weekly flight via Johannesburg.

But as stated above, Ascension Island Government is investigating options for the provision of services from Ascension to St Helena.

Note also that the RMS St Helena will serve Ascension and St Helena until June 2016 (4 months after commercial flights to St Helena are due to commence).

Further information will follow.

Q. Will there be direct flights to and from the UK? 

A. Flights to the UK will require a change of aircraft at OR Tambo International Airport. There are many airlines operating out of this airport that can provide onward travel to London at very competitive prices, including British Airways, Emirates, Virgin and South African Airways.

Q. What happens if the Comair aircraft has a technical problem? 

A. Contingency plans are in place and Comair would, if necessary, provide a backup plane from its fleet.

In addition, Comair will keep a stock of the most commonly required spare parts at St Helena Airport, ensuring that routine repairs can be rectified on St Helena. Comair will have an engineer on each flight capable of carrying out these repairs.

SHG 

27 March 2015

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I wanted the people’s stories, says St Helena film-maker

Ivy Ellick speaks of painful truths in Dieter Deswarte's BBC film

Ivy Ellick speaks of painful truths in Dieter Deswarte’s BBC film

It was the people that mattered to Dieter Deswarte when he turned up on St Helena, one man and his camera on a shoestring budget, hoping to capture the spirit of an island emerging from obscurity.

The BBC gave him half an hour to tell the world about the Saints as they wait for an airport to transform their lives. That’s probably more screen time than it had spared the island in the previous 80 years.

Belgian film-maker Dieter Deswarte

Belgian film-maker Dieter Deswarte

It turns out to be quite a story: a hard one, but a beautiful one too. The “cinematic” scenery helps.

So do those who allowed the young Belgian film-maker into the private world from which outsiders are normally, politely, excluded.

He thanks them all for helping him make St Helena: An End To Isolation, as part of the BBC’s Our World series.

Father Dale Bowers tells how today’s Saints are descended from the poor who got left behind when the island’s fortunes failed in the 19th century. So many of the island’s problems are rooted in that fact.

Dieter describes Father Dale as “quite outspoken”; a man of good ideas.

The radio veteran Tony Leo is in there, chatting away on Saint FM, holding life together. For Dieter, the community-owned station is an important symbol of a people finding their own voice. He likes Tony, a lot.

Father Dale Bowers, by Dieter Deswarte

Father Dale Bowers, by Dieter Deswarte

We see Trevor Thomas, painting his fishing boat and complaining that anyone who voices concern about change is dismissed as negative.

“It was really tragic that he passed away the last week I was there,” says Dieter.  “It shook things up completely.

“I’m really grateful to the family that they still felt happy for me to use the footage of him. He was a really prolific speaker and writer and he had his way with words. It’s not bad to be a critic, but he was one.”

In her trim garden, Ivy Ellick, the retired senior government official, quietly acknowledges the realities of historic sex abuse that has brought the island unwelcome, and unrepresentative, attention.

“When I started, that was not known about,” says Dieter. “I couldn’t ignore what was happening because it’s very much part of the island opening up, but I didn’t just want that one aspect of the island.

Trevor Otto Thomas died during the making of the film. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

Trevor Otto Thomas died during the making of the film. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

“It was really hard for people to speak about it but I was really pleased with what Ivy has done for me. I’m so grateful for her words. We spoke about it for quite a while.

“It is an issue on the island that people are often not confident to speak up about because of privacy, living in a small community.

“I know some more detail but the detail is not so important here; it’s trying to bring out the fact that the island is opening up and these issues are coming to the surface, and how it’s taken so long.”

The other great island sadness is in there too: the going away. The airport may be only months away from opening, but for now, the pain of parting goes on as parents leave the island – and often, their children – to find a way out of extreme hardship.

In the film, it’s Melanie Caesar who hugs her teenage daughters on the wharf and boards the ship to go away to work, knowing she will not see them for the best part of a year.

Melanie Caesar, by Dieter Deswarte

Melanie Caesar, by Dieter Deswarte

“It was a very emotional goodbye,” says Dieter. “I’m really grateful to Melanie and her family, to let me observe these quite intimate moments.

“They almost forgot that I was there. I heard that from Rebecca and Kanisha afterwards.

“Because St Helena is quite a private community it has been challenging to enter people’s personal lives. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s about listening to people; making people feel you are there for them to tell their story, and not to tell your own story.”

Fly-on-the-wall television has become a tainted form in the UK, but Dieter seems to have made it work for the island he came to love on his three visits in as many years.

“It’s been great to get some feedback from people from St Helena who are pleased,” he says, a few days after seeing his break-through first film go out on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. “It’s such a relief. Most people felt happy it was just Saints telling the story.

The RMS St Helena approaches the island. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

The RMS St Helena approaches the island. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

“I did speak to the governor and quite a few other expats. I just decided not to include them. I wanted proper Saints.

“The BBC wanted something that would be quite observational in its character. I think they were very happy with the result.”

That’s not the end of it. “There’s talks here and there about a few things that might come off the back of it. It might be broadcast in Belgium, where I’m from.”

Not all those who were filmed survived the edit, but they might yet have their moment on screen – maybe the big screen.

“As we speak I am still editing a longer version of the film for festivals and other broadcasters,” says Dieter, who’s been based in London since graduating from Goldsmith’s University.

“In the longer film, there will be more people. For this particular short programme I felt Ivy, Trevor, Father Dale, Melanie and Tony, they were a good representation of the island.

“It was about finding a good balance between opinions. The airport comes with good and bad, and it was important to raise questions about it and not say it’s all terrible, but it’s a necessity that this will have to happen. At least, that’s how I see it: something needs to change for the island to change as well.”

Those charged with trying to promote St Helena as a welcoming tourist destination are unhappy about media coverage of the sex abuse inquiry, but Dieter does not believe that including it in the film will have a damaging effect.

“My series producer from the BBC is still very keen to go to St Helena, regardless of all he has heard about it,” he says.

“It’s not the travel show: I don’t think it will deter people from visiting the island. If anything it will make them more curious. Above all, I hope it tells them something about the people living there.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

Click any thumbnail for a gallery of larger images:

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Saint FM vital to island spirit, says director Dieter

Tony Leo, as he appeared on the BBC

Tony Leo, as he appeared on the BBC

Three minutes into Dieter Deswarte’s BBC film about St Helena, viewers around the world heard the smooth welcome of Tony Leo, veteran island broadcaster.

“This is Saint FM Community Radio. The people’s station at its best,” he said. “Our unique little island will soon be a part of the bigger world…”

He wasn’t there just to help the script along. Saint FM logo 300The young film-maker places great significance on the radio station that was revived by its listeners, against resistance from officials who were funding a slicker, better-behaved rival.

Saint FM is helping islanders break away from a restrictive colonial past, as Dieter sees it.

“I spent a lot of time there,” he says. “I liked the way it wasn’t perfect but it was done with a lot of enthusiasm, for the island.

“And a lot of people are involved. They have a lot of volunteers. They struggle a lot financially, but it’s good that this came out of the people. It’s a great example of initiative and people getting on and trying to do something.

“I spoke to a lot of people and the independent media has done a lot for people in helping  them to voice their opinion. Because I think until it came around it was really, really difficult.

“It’s incredibly important. There is this colonial legacy and this past is still being processed, not only by the government but also by the people.

“It’s very important to have this idea that people don’t feel suppressed. That is something that is constantly causing frustration and conflict on the island.

“It can be made better by better communications between the people and its government. Also feeling they have a voice within the community.

“I think Saint FM and the Independent… the mere fact that it’s independent media, I think that’s something that the people really needed.”

SEE ALSO: 
It gives me great pleasure: Julie declares Saint FM open
New radio group bids to revive Saint FM

“I think Saint FM and the Independent… the mere fact that it’s independent media, I think that’s something that the people really needed.” SEE ALSO:  It gives me great pleasure: Julie declares Saint FM open New radio group bids to revive Saint FM

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Blast masters: Alan and co fire the last explosion on aircraft site

The final explosion on the St Helena airport project

Last blast: the final explosion on the St Helena airport project

The dust has settled on three years of explosions on St Helena’s airport construction site: the final rock blast of the entire project took place on Prosperous Bay Plain at 5.20pm on Friday 20 March 2015.

It achieved its objective, with 975kg of explosives yielding about 3,700 tonnes of rock near the site of the navigational directional beacon that will help guide aircraft towards the runway. The slopes of the hillside will be safer as a result.

explosion sequence by basil readClick here to see a sequence of explosion pictures

Blasting supervisor Alan Hudson and his team have been praised for the part they have played in moving more than 10million cubic metres of rock since work began.

Most of it was ferried, truckload by truckload, into Dry Gut to create a level area long enough for the runway. Explosives were also used to clear the route of the access road up from Rupert’s Bay.

A total of 383 controlled explosions have taken place for the airport project. The number of misfires and safety incidents was: none.

SEE ALSO:
PICTURES: Explosion! 
VIDEO: 5,000 tonnes of explosives and fuel by the shipload: why St Helena’s airport builders are careful with matches

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Watch online: St Helena film shows the beauty, and the truth

Saints: click the pic to see a larger image

Saints: click the pic to see a larger image

The BBC has screened a revealing documentary that captures the beauty and charm of St Helena, but also confronts the realities of life on the island.

People in the UK can see at on the BBC iPlayer at any time up to 20 April 2015.

The half-hour film tells its story through six Saints who reflect on the way things have been, and what they might become. Among them is the late Trevor Otto Thomas, a much-loved fisherman and observer of island life.

Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt

Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt

Before his unexpected death in December 2014, he told of his concerns about what the airport will mean for the islanders’ way of life.

“Britain is not going to put an airport here for £400m and then we live the same old way we did 20 or 30 years ago,” he says in the film.

“They will want changes. It’s coming.

“People feel as though they are not being listened to and it makes you angry. And then when you say something that is contrary to what is being presented to you, you are being ‘negative’.”

Ivy Ellick, formerly a senior government official, laments the departure of many Saints for new lives overseas, and hopes the airport will “quench that thirst to leave the island… and will hopefully bring our Saints back.”

Viewers watch Melanie Caesar hug her children on the sea front as she prepares to leave them for a year or more to work overseas, having abandoned the struggle to support them on the meagre income she can earn on the island. The pain is clear to see.

Father Dale Bowers also makes a number of telling observations on the hardships of island life, for which director Dieter Deswarte made several visits to St Helena.

Saints is billed as “a film about a small place becoming part of a bigger world; a coming-of-age story about a small community growing up in a globalised world.” It was screened several times over the weekend of 20-22 March 2015 on BBC Freeview channels.

Reaction on Facebook has been positive. The film has also prompted some people to post messages on the site recalling their own family separations.

One said: “I’ve been on that sea front crying my eyes out a few times.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

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Abuse lawyer pledges to stand up to power – and give a voice to ‘people who have had horrific experiences’

The lawyer investigating the alleged cover-up of child abuse on St Helena has promised to look into “everyone from the governor down.”

Sasha Wass QC told island journalists: “I am quite prepared to draw unpopular conclusions and stand up to people, whoever they are.”

But she also said she wanted to hear the testimony – in the strictest confidence – of “people who have had horrific experiences”, no matter how far back in time.

“If someone says, “I was abused 50 years ago,’ it’s never too late for that type of allegation to be taken seriously,” she said. “That allegation might initiate a criminal investigation.”

Ms Wass and her panel – including a solicitor and child safeguard experts – held a press conference in their temporary office at Number 3, Main Street, within hours of arriving on the island on Tuesday, 17 March 2015.

She began by saying that she had 34 years’ experience of dealing with serious sexual abuse, in which victims of prominent people had been frightened to come forward, thinking they would not be believed.

“My belief is that perpetrators who are important – celebrities, well known, respected – contrary to their own opinion of themselves do not hold a position which is above the law. Those people will be brought to justice, they will be prosecuted, and can be convicted.”

She successfully prosecuted the TV personality Rolf Harris on sex charges. He went to prison.

Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent, pointed out that the inquiry team had been given an office directly across the street from the police station – despite the fact that Ms Wass had been commissioned to investigate police corruption and incompetence.

“You are in clear view of the entire police office,” he said. “They have talked to every officer before your arrival. Everybody will know who comes to see you.”

Ms Wass said: “It’s a very good point.

“We have a letter box. If somebody doesn’t want to be seen coming in they can drop a letter round at any time of the day or night. Nobody is too much trouble. If they want to meet us at a location which is discreet, we will do that.”

Later, she said: “We particularly want to hear from people who feel they have not been dealt with properly by any aspect of St Helena, whether it’s the law, the medical establishment or social services.

“If there are people who have made complaints… and have not been treated properly by the establishment, whether it’s the police, the courts, anybody within the establishment, we want to investigate that and why that has happened, because that should not happen.”

She added: “Our interest is equally for the victims and those who have failed in their duty.”

Part of the inquiry’s task was to give victims a voice, she said.

Mike Olsson also asked who she considered to be the head of the police service – a reference to allegations made by the social workers whose whistle-blowing triggered the Wass inquiry. In their evidence to an employment tribunal, they said that Governor Mark Capes exercised complete power over the island.

Ms Wass replied: “At the moment Trevor Botting is the chief of police but during the time allegations were made there were different heads. We are going to be looking at him and his predecessor.”

Mr Olsson then asked: “And the governor?”

She replied: “He appoints them. We are looking at all of these matters. We are looking at everyone from the governor downwards.”

Mr Olsson then pointed out that an information pack about the inquiry included a message from the governor, despite the fact that his office was under scrutiny. “He is running with the hare and hunting with the hounds,” he said.

Ms Wass replied: “The governor is not running this inquiry, all right? He is entitled to express himself. I can’t stop him. It’s our inquiry and nobody else is running it.”

At another point in the 25-minute press conference, she said: “I am not employed by any government. I am an independent barrister who has had to criticise important people, who has had to defend people who are unpopular. I am quite prepared to draw unpopular conclusions and stand up to people whoever they are. Okay? I can’t say more than that.”

The investigation was already well under way before the team left the UK, she said.

“We have been given thousands and thousands of documents to read; hundreds of emails, all of which I have read. I have managed to interview people in the United Kingdom already.

“And some brave people have come forward to give us their accounts. We want as many people as possible to come forward.

“A lot of people have already emailed us and we are very encouraged by that.”

Interviews would be conducted on tape to ensure the record was correct, she said, but confidentiality would be respected, even if it meant witnesses could only be referred to as “a man, or a woman”.

Ms Wass hoped to present a report to Parliament in September 2015 – but that deadline could slip if witnesses came forward at the 11th hour. “You can never give anyone a final deadline. Often people don’t get enough confidence until very late in the day.

“We won’t simply ignore that to meet a deadline.”

Allegations of crime will be passed to the police to investigate, she said. The inquiry team had no powers to prosecute, but it would “pressurise” to make sure cases were properly dealt with.

The final document will be made public, unlike the 2013 Lucy Faithfull Foundation report into alleged abuse, of which only a three-page summary was published.

“The last thing we want is for anybody to feel let down, because we are fully aware that people have felt let down by the leaking of the Lucy Faithfull report,” said Ms Wass.

She also said: “We would like you all to know we are here for the benefit of St Helena, for the island itself.

“There have been articles indicating that practices in St Helena are horrific, and a dark cloud has really hung over this island since many of those articles have hit the press.

“We have come here to investigate whether there is any truth in what is said.

“We come from a country that has been riddled with scandals about the way victims of sexual assault have been treated. The suggestion that has been made is that St Helena somehow has much higher incidences of abusing children.

“We want to know whether that is with foundation, whether that can be evidenced, or whether it is just a smear. We can only do that by talking to the people themselves.”

The people of St Helena deserved to have the doubts answered once and for all, she said.

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Flights to Europe and Cape Town ‘still up in the air’

a-star-640Direct flights between Europe, St Helena and Cape Town remain a possibility, even though the island’s government has chosen to work with an airline that will link only with Johannesburg.

A report on an aviation intelligence website says that the rival Atlantic Star is still considering operating on its own routes – including to Ascension.

The naming of the South African firm Comair as preferred bidder has been greeted with disappointment because the island has no established links with Johannesburg – feared for its reputation as a “murder capital”.

Saints have been settling in Cape Town for more than 100 years and a strong network of support has built up, especially for islanders travelling to the Mother City for medical care.

When the UK-based Atlantic Star went public with its plan two years ago it said it could operate without a government subsidy.

The report on the ch-aviation website said: “Start-up Atlantic Star Airlines has also expressed an interest in connecting the remote island with London using a B757-200 leased from Icelandair.

“The carrier is also planning to offer flights to Georgetown Wideawake [on] Ascension Island and Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands, as well as flights to West and South Africa.”

There has been no public statement from Atlantic Star yet.

St Helena Government has been quoted in the media saying it would have an open skies policy – meaning it would not prevent other operators from flying into St Helena International airport, even in competition with its own partner airline.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 00.20.00But industry observers say that for a rival airline to pay its own way, without government funding, there would have to be more tourist accommodation on the island than is expected by 2016.

The Shelco plan for a five-star eco resort on the island is apparently on hold, and a scheme by the Mantis group to convert Ladder Hill Fort into a boutique hotel has so far come to nothing.

St Helena Government pushed forward its own scheme to convert Georgian offices in Jamestown into a hotel to try to make sure there will be tourist accommodation on the island once its airport opens in early 2016.

But it is thought the Main Street hotel would not bring enough tourists to make an unsubsidised service take off.

Ironically, the UK media has speculated that Mantis and Shelco were both waiting for confirmation of direct flights to Europe before starting work on their plans.

Atlantic Star founder Richard Brown said in 2013 that wealthy tourists would not be willing to change planes to visit St Helena when destinations such as Barbados could be reached on a single flight.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) was long believed to favour a direct service only to South Africa. Media reports spoke of flights to Cape Town, though changing plans at Johannesburg instead would cut down the overall journey time to Europe.

Reaction among Saints and island-watchers has been uneasy, especially over the news that the service would operate out of O.R. Tambo International Airport.

One source said that it “tops the world airports league for most lost and pilfered luggage.”

But a comment received by St Helena Online from a writer under the name Latinflyer says: “O.R. Tambo International Airport Johannesburg has been awarded the top spot as the best airport [of] 2014 in Africa and is handling more than 17 Million passengers each year.”

Island businessman John Turner “I’d like to know what will happen to medical referrals. Will they fly to Jo’burg then fly to Cape Town, or will we move to a hospital in Jo’burg?

“The people who’ve invested in accommodation business for Saints in Cape Town must be pretty brassed off.”

One expert consulted by St Helena Online said the choice of Comair as preferred bidder was no surprise: “It was the worst-kept secret that DFID ever had. They have been talking to Comair for the past 10 years.

“Comair themselves have done nothing proactive whatsoever to express or advance any interest they might have in St Helena. So far as is known, they have never sent anybody to the island, or been involved in any way other than to receive the repeated overtures of DFID and SHG to become involved.

“It is certain that DFID/SHG would have lobbied hard for Cape Town to be the selected hub, but such representations have clearly failed.

“Absolutely NOBODY on-island wants to go to Johannesburg: Saints hate the place. Who wouldn’t be wary of the murder capital of the world?”

Ascension does not appear to be included on the flight plan for Comair, and it is thought there may be problems making Wideawake Airfield suitable for civilian aircraft. It is not clear how Saints would travel to and from jobs on Ascension – a vital part of St Helena’s economy.

SEE ALSO:
South Africa’s Comair to begin talks with St Helena Government – ch-aviation website
South African firm is first choice as island airline
St Helena airport: first plane to land in July 2015

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South African firm is first choice as St Helena airline

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 15.54.14A South African airline operator has been named the favourite to provide an air service for St Helena when its first airport opens early in 2016.

But Comair, which also operates budget flights as kulula.com, will only offer flights to Johannesburg in South Africa – despite strong calls for a direct service to Europe.

Potential tourism operators, including SHELCO, the company behind a planned eco resort on the island, had warned that flights from the UK were vital to their plans.

A rival bidder, Atlantic Star, also said that time-pressured tourists would be likely to holiday in resorts they could reach in a single flight, such as Barbados, rather than change planes to reach St Helena.

St Helena Government has said only that Comair is the preferred bidder. It did not say whether the firm was expected to operate the island route under the kulula brand.

kulula.com was named Best Low Cost Airline in international Airline Excellence Awards run by the website AirLineRatings.com in December 2014.

The site’s editor in chief, Geoffrey Thomas, said: “kulula is a breath of fresh air in the African market, combining safety, technology and humour. That airline brings fun to travel whilst delivering outstanding value.”

The announcement of Comair as preferred bidder was made by St Helena Government and the UK’s Department for International Development in a statement on 16 March 2015.

It said: “Comair is a South African aviation and travel company offering scheduled and non-scheduled airline services within South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.

“Managed and owned by South Africans through its listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Comair has been operating successfully in South Africa since 1946.

“The company operates under its low-fare airline brand, kulula.com, as well as under the British Airways livery as part of its licence agreement with British Airways.

“Comair is proposing a weekly flight between Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo International Airport, formerly known as Johannesburg International Airport) and St Helena, using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

“The flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena will be about four and a half hours.

“Through Comair’s partnerships with numerous international airlines, the St Helena air service will offer connections to the international route network, via Johannesburg, to destinations such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney and Hong Kong.

“SHG and DFID will be holding detailed discussions with Comair over the next few weeks and will make a formal and more detailed announcement once these have been concluded.

“This marks a very positive step for St Helena in working with an airline that has such a long track record of successful operations, and which provides an excellent gateway to the rest of the world, including the UK.”

SEE ALSO:
No flights from London? Woah, I’m going to Barbados…
Which comes first: the airline, or the eco resort?

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Sick child ‘awake, talking and eating’ after slow dash to hospital on a mercy ship

The St Helenian child who reached hospital after a ship changed course to pick her up is faring well, her mother has reported.

She put a message on Facebook saying: “The hospital is trying to diagnose her condition. She is awake, talking and eating; yet has her good and bad days.”

She thanked people for their support and prayers.

These are some of the messages left on the mother’s Facebook wall:

Such a brave girl! sending love and hugs, stay strong hunny xxx

Great news. Be strong Mouse, you have a fighter. Thinking of u all xx

She’s a brave & tough little one, just as her mommy xx. She’s a fighter!!! Stay strong & positive

Stay strong & we thinking about u all xxx

SEE ALSO: Ship diverts 180 miles to pick up sick girl

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Ship diverts 180 miles to pick up sick girl – after first offer of help was turned down

Big lift for a small girl: MV Traveller. Picture courtesy of BigLift shipping. Click the pic for a larger image

Big lift for a small girl: MV Traveller. Picture courtesy of BigLift shipping. Click the pic for a larger image

The Master and owners of a cargo ship have been praised for diverting to pick up a desperately sick child on St Helena – two days after being told their vessel was unsuitable.

The MV Traveller was the only ship to respond to a call for help put out by coastguards in the UK.

Update: sick child is ‘awake, talking and eating’

The ship’s Dutch owners, BigLift, waived all the costs of doubling back the 180 miles to St Helena, and then carrying the girl the 700 miles to Ascension Island.

The ship arrived in James Bay close to midnight on Friday, 6 March 2015, but the seven-year-old child could not be lifted aboard until 3.30 in the morning.

She was landed at Georgetown on Ascension at 2100 hours on Sunday, 8 March, and taken straight to a waiting military plane, arriving at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London on Monday lunchtime.

Martin Bidmead, senior maritime operations officer at the Coastguard Operations Centre at Falmouth, was on duty for most of the three and a half days of the evacuation effort.

He said: “Although the MV Traveller wasn’t the most suitable vessel, because she wasn’t very large, in circumstances that were fairly urgent it proved to be the best option.

“Despite being turned down initially, some time later they were asked to go back. Thankfully they were willing to turn round.”

Martin said a request for help from St Helena Radio was received in mid-afternoon on Thursday, 5 March – with the RMS St Helena five days away from the island.

“They sent a message to us asking for us to see if we could contact shipping to transfer a young female who was ill on St Helena to South Africa or Ascension for medical treatment.

“We spoke to South African authorities and there was nothing they could provide that could assist.

“We then did some satellite broadcasts, using our satellite tracking equipment for ships. There weren’t very many ships at all that could possibly help. In that part of the world the amount of shipping is fairly sparse, to be honest.

“One that did offer was a Dutch ship, the MV Traveller, a heavy lift ship.

“We spoke to the Traveller initially at 9.30 on the 6th. She responded to one of our broadcasts. We then spoke to St Helena Radio who said the vessel wouldn’t be suitable.

“She had a lack of accommodation and the medical personnel initially declined the offer. As time went on it became apparent the Traveller was probably the only option there was.”

At that point, the ship had already sailed past the island on its voyage from South Africa to the Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean, said Martin.

“I got hold of the owners in Holland and asked, would they be happy for us to turn the Traveller back to St Helena, because by this time she was nearly 180 miles to the north.

“They said they would, so I went back to the Master and asked him if he would return to St Helena, which is exactly what he did.

“The Master when I spoke to him said they were able to accommodate the casualty in their sick bay. I believe it was fairly small. The four person team who accompanied her I believe had to sleep in the saloon.

“All credit to them as well. I don’t know how they were going to get back.

“They took her to Ascension where an aircraft was waiting for her and flew her to London. They did it very professionally and very quickly.

“We were very grateful and I’m sure the young child’s family were grateful as well.”

The station at Falmouth, in Cornwall, is the international liaison station for the UK’s coastguard service.

“There is a team of four of five of us on watch,” said Martin. “We were all involved and all wishing this child a full and speedy recovery.

“The job was a little bit unusual because we tend deal with emergencies that involve shipping or leisure boats.

“It is reasonably unusual for us to have to assist someone who is on land and requires assistance from shipping.”

This was not the first occasion a call has been put out for shipping to take a dangerously sick person off St Helena, but it may be the last.

The mayday call went out only four months before a test flight is expected at St Helena’s first airport – due for completion in February 2016.

“We had a look on Google Earth and we could see it being constructed,” said Martin.

“It will be good for circumstances like this but it will effect lifestyles considerably. They will end up with people like me visiting.

“It’s one of the few places in the world I want to visit – I really do.”

  • BigLift, the owners of the MV Traveller, said in a statement that the ship was ten hours’ sailing time from St Helena when the request was made for the vessel to turn back to the island. “Her parents, a doctor and a nurse were taken on board. Assistance was requested and without hesitation, MV Traveller responded. The vessel was en route from Durban to the Virgin Islands so the deviation was relatively small. Despite the short notice we were pleased to assist and hope the girl will receive proper treatment and fully recover in time.”
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