Ship breakdown and runway problems leave travellers stranded across South Atlantic

People trying to travel to and from British islands in the South Atlantic have been held up for days – and in some cases, weeks – by a double whammy of transport problems:

The RMS St Helena has broken down, leaving dozens of people stuck in Cape Town or unable to leave St Helena and Ascension. A propellor has failed and it is not expected to depart until early May.

Cracks are reported to have appeared in the runway at Ascension, causing the cancellation of three flights between RAF Brize Norton and the Falkland Islands. Among those unable to fly home are workers and scientists returning from a tour of duty in Antarctica.

Many people bound for St Helena have already been waiting three weeks to leave South Africa, and it is reported that some are running out of money. Tourist passengers are understood to have abandoned their attempt to reach the extremely-remote island.

Over the Easter weekend, St Helena Government was attempting to negotiate to have a cruise ship diverted to St Helena. It was also considering chartering a plane to fly people home – but there are difficulties finding an aircraft certified for extended flying over the ocean and able to land on the island’s wind-plagued airport. Atlantic Star Airlines, which has been bidding to operate regular flights to the island, was known to have an aircraft available at short notice.

The ship failure added to the frustration of islanders, whose hopes of a regular air service were put on hold a year ago when severe winds at its new £286 million airport rendered it unsafe for most large aircraft.

The RAF expected to resume the twice-weekly air bridge between RAF Brize Norton and the Falklands by Friday 21 May, with a stopover in west Africa rather than Ascension.

Part of the runway at Ascension was reported to be undamaged and it was anticipated that a smaller aircraft would still be able to land to bring in workers and take off people whose flights had been cancelled.

Journalist Mike Olsson, owner of the St Helena Independent, has been providing regular updates for both St Helena and Ascension on Saint FM Community Radio and on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/mike.olsson.777?fref=nf&pnref=story.unseen-section

Saint FM Community Radio is also carrying updates on its Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/saintcommunityradio/

Simon Pipe, owner of St Helena Online, is on holiday with limited internet access, but can be contacted via his Coventry University email address.

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Adam becomes third Saint master of the RMS St Helena

adam-williamsThe RMS St Helena has a new master: Adam Williams, a Saint who started his career on the ship as a 16-year-old cadet, will take over from Captain Rodney Young MBE, who died unexpectedly in the new year.

Adam will become one of three St Helenians to have captained the ship, alongside Captain Andrew Greentree.

The new master will take command of the vessel during Voyage 252, which departs Cape Town on 24 January 2017 and reaches James Bay on 29 January.

Adam left St Helena to begin college in South Tyneside in the UK in January 1998.

As a cadet he served mainly on the RMS St Helena, but also spent four months on the Queen Elizabeth 2, among other ships.

He qualified as officer of the watch in 2001, joining the RMS in August that year as a 3rd officer. He was then promoted to 2nd officer in 2003.

He was made permanent chief officer in September 2007 and qualified as a master mariner in December 2009. He takes command in the closing months of the ship’s career – though no date has been set for its retirement.

SEE ALSO: Flags lowered for Rodney, the first Saint captain

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Flags lowered for Rodney, the first Saint captain

381-rms-st-helena-captain-rodney-young-jbCaptain Rodney Young had planned to stay with his ship until the end of its days. As it was, he did not live to carry out his last duties as Master of the RMS St Helena.

The ship remained in operation longer than intended because of problems with the island’s airport; Rodney died unexpectedly on holiday, just short of his 54th birthday.

On Facebook, Rodney’s wife Jill thanked many Saints and friends who had posted messages of condolence. “Rodney will never realise how much people loved and respected him.” she wrote.

“The weather here in the Seychelles just about sums up how we’re all feeling – it’s raining tears of sorrow for my soulmate. You are already missed more than you’ll ever know xx.”

Governor Lisa Phillips had the flag lowered at Plantation House, and the same was done at The Castle in Jamestown and at Signal Point.

Rodney was the first St Helenian to become captain of the RMS St Helena. He had joined the Merchant Navy in 1979, training at the Plymouth School of Maritime Studies. He served on the first RMS St Helena from August 1980, and was one of the first four cadets on a training scheme set up by the vessel’s operator of the time, Curnow Shipping.

He was present at the launch of the RMS St Helena and became Master in August 2000, a role that saw him become something of an ambassador for the island. His is one of the first voices heard in a BBC documentary, St Helena – An End To Isolation. He tells the interviewer the ship was central to the life of the island: for many Saints and visitors, Rodney was central to their experience of the voyage.

The journalist Matthew Engel, who visited the island to write a piece for the Financial Times magazine in early 2016, said: “Rodney Young represented to me everything that was best about St Helena.

“In the way he proved himself in his career by climbing to the top of it. In the relaxed professionalism he brought to the captaincy of the RMS. In the affability and good humour he brought to his de facto role as an ambassador for the island.

“I will never forget when I went into his mother’s shop in Jamestown and got talking. I asked her name. She said, ‘May Young.’ I asked if she was any relation to Rodney and she almost burst with pride when she said, ‘I’m his mama!’

“So when I say that I send my deepest sympathies to the family, I really do so with all my heart.”

Rodney’s nephew, David Lindsay, was among more than 100 people who posted messages of condolence on Facebook. “The first St Helenian to captain the RMS St Helena,” he wrote. “He had the MBE to prove it.

“He was the youngest of eight siblings, yet he is the first to go.”

A statement said the directors and staff of the shipping line were shocked and saddened by the news. “He was much liked and respected by his officers and crew on board the RMS and an extremely competent and professional Master of the ship. He will be much missed by all his friends and colleagues.”

Vilma Clingham-Toms paid tribute on behalf of the St Helena Association in the UK. She said she was in a state of shock. She said: “He gave young Saints hope – showing them that with hard work and dedication they could be whatever they wanted to be. Nothing was out of reach.”

One Facebook tribute recalled his kindness to a passenger who lost her partner. Carrying sick passengers and their anxious family members was a part of the job that called for delicacy.

Roma Ann Stewart posted: “Rodney was such a lovely man. I think everyone who had the pleasure to have known him has at least one special story or memory of him.”

In America, Doreen Gatien wrote: “We will always remember his professionalism and courtesy on board each time we travelled home, and the fun pictures we have of him.

Maggie Peters said: “What a shock it was when we heard the sad news. I will always remember with laughter the stories that he told when I was doing a night shift at the Customs. God bless. xx”

Wilma Baker wrote: “I remember how proud we were of Capt Rodney when he passed his qualifications. Our sympathy to all the family. We shall miss him.”

Lee Vorster, a fellow Merchant Navy officer, posted from the Isle of Man: “We have lost a captain, a gentleman, a friend and a mentor. I am so shocked and sad today. RIP Captain Rodney Young: lost far too soon.”

Rodney’s wife gave a poignant response to Di and Andy Parker, who said: “The RMS will never be the same.”

Jill thanked them for their thoughts, but said: “I do hope the ship will be the same until it finishes, which was what he had planned: to be there until the end of its life. Sadly his came first.”

READ MORE:

Saint to captain RMS St Helena – September 2000

WATCH:

Our World – An End To Isolation – see Rodney Young near the start of this BBC documentary

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He was the Master at sea, but on St Helena, his family kept his feet on the ground

VILMA CLINGHAM-TOMS pays tribute of Captain Rodney Young of the RMS St Helena on behalf of the St Helena Association in the UK

We were so proud of Rodney’s achievement in becoming St Helena’s first ship’s captain. A pioneer. He gave young Saints hope – showing them that with hard work and dedication they could be whatever they wanted to be. Nothing was out of reach.

Rodney was the youngest of eight children. They all loved and respected each other, there was always banter and laughter and his siblings kept his feet firmly planted on the ground. He might be Captain Rodney Young MBE, but he was still May Young’s boy!

Patsy (his sister) is a close friend of mine since school days and on St Helena if you are a friend of one member you are a friend of the whole family. He was kind and helpful, loved and respected by everyone who knew him, a real gentleman with his heart firmly in St Helena.

The last time I saw him was at the Reading Sports. He told me that the committee and I were doing a great job, and that it was good to see so many there having a great time and to keep up the good work.

He will be sadly missed. My heart goes out to Jill, his mum and all of his family. Kind Regards, Vilma

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‘He was one of those people you meet and never forget’ – a passenger’s tribute to Captain Rodney Young MBE

Tina Wagner, a past passenger on the RMS St Helena, heard the news of Captain Rodney Young’s death at her home in Germany and wrote the following tribute. 

For Captain Rodney.

When we set eyes on him for the first time, in May 2005 in Walvis Bay, Namibia, the captain of the ship of our dreams made us smile.

A short, plump man with jowls and features we’d never seen before – as we had never consciously seen a Saint Helenian.

It didn’t take us long to realise that the captain was no laughing stock at all. He appeared very sober and very authoritative, commanding – sine qua non for a master, obviously.
But we could also see his great sense of humour.

Eight years later, in November 2013, we returned aboard the RMS St Helena for Voyage 200 to Tristan da Cunha. We were full of joy when we learned that Captain Young was her master again. It was like a circle closing.

Again, we had three weeks to observe, and we liked him better and better.

He and I became Facebook friends after our return to Germany. I never thought that he would accept my request, as I was just one of countless passengers he met in his career. He was one of those “friends” you never wanted to miss a post from. They were rare, but always funny and/or interesting – those status updates that made you laugh, dry and matter-of-fact as they were.

We went to London in June 2016 to be with our beloved ship when she made her big appearance on the Thames. We spotted him at once, taking pictures from the bridge deck.

After the RMS was moored alongside HMS Belfast and we had walked the full circle to take pictures from all angles, I heard my name being called from the crowd at Tower Millenium Pier, and there he was, with his friends and his lovely wife Jill, waving to me and even hugging me – a passenger he only met twice within eleven years. I even remember the scent he left on my cheek.

For me, for us, he was one of those people you meet and never forget, those acquaintances that make your life worth living, those people you want to find when you are travelling.

So many words, but never enough. This morning I learned that he has died, just days before his 54th birthday, just four years my senior.

The world keeps turning, but Roddy (as we referred to him between us) is dead. A light has gone from our lives – no emotive talk, but a true feeling.

Roddy – I wish you that the ocean beyond is a little bit choppy, as I don’t think you’re the one for the very calm seas. We will always love you.

Tina, Jan and the Plums (Babu and Bua – fellow passengers), and without doubt “Lena”, our RMS.

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Prince to open St Helena Airport

Prins Edward, earl av Wessex - version 4

Prince Edward, Duke of Wessex (picture: Wikimedia commons)

Prince Edward, the Queen’s third son, is to perform the official opening ceremony for St Helena Airport – as long as safety inspectors have given clearance for it to become operational.

From St Helena Government:

The historic opening of St Helena Airport is planned for the morning of Saturday 21 May 2016 – St Helena’s National Day.  It will be marked by a public ceremony at the Airport site, with royal guest HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, in attendance.

All members of the public will be invited to attend this special event, ahead of the traditional St Helena’s Day entertainments in Jamestown.

As is usual, New Horizons will be organising the traditional programme of events for St Helena’s Day.  But this year, this will be preceded by the official opening of St Helena Airport at the aerodrome organised by SHG, Enterprise St Helena, New Horizons and Basil Read – subject, of course, to prior certification of the airport.

Preparations for the opening ceremony are ongoing and further details will follow in due course.

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Voyage to investigate illegal fishing off Ascension: reporting ban on St Helena media is lifted

extractor 640

A criminal investigation has been carried out into illegal fishing around Ascension Island.

But the media on St Helena were banned from reporting on an investigatory expedition aboard the MFV Extractor until it was over (archive picture by Bruce Salt).

No details of the operation have emerged from official sources at the time of writing.

An injunction was served on Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent, and Saint FM Community Radio, to prevent them reporting on the voyage for fear of alerting the operators of illegal fishing vessels.

Other media on the island were also bound by the injunction.

Chief magistrate John MacRitchie said in his court judgement that the media would be “unlikely to potentially interfere with the course of justice, if the situation is explained to them”.

He said acting attorney general Angelo Berbotto had failed to explain why the media should avoid reporting the voyage of the MFV Extractor.

He also rebuked Mike Olsson for giving a forthright response to a threatening email from Mr Berbotto. This was blamed for a breakdown in communications that prompted Mr Berbotto to take the extraordinary and draconian step of seeking an injunction at the 11th hour, disrupting publication of the 5 February 2016 edition of the St Helena Independent.

In his judgement in the case, Mr MacRitchie said the injunction would mean inhibiting the freedom of the press – “an extremely important right”.

But he said this was outweighed by the need to prevent “interference with the detection of serious crimes, which are specifically said to be taking place around Ascension  island.”

The affair has raised a number of human rights issues that are expected to be examined in the coming days.

There is also likely to be scrutiny of the actions of Mr Berbotto and the legal service on St Helena.

  • COMMENT: Responsible efforts by St Helena Online to find out the scope of reporting restrictions were unsuccessful. This resulted in the site being unable to report on matters of clear public interest that could, in fact, have been made public, without risk of perverting the course of justice. This became clear when a copy of the court judgement was received on Friday, 4 March 2016, only a day before the injunction would expire. I regard this obstruction as an unwarranted restraint on my human right to freedom of expression and will be considering my response. Simon Pipe, owner, St Helena Online

 

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House that: Andy auctions stamp painting for island charity

first day cover by andy crowe 1280Andy Crowe’s vivid paintings of St Helena’s capital city provided a colourful theme for a set of postage stamps. And now one of them is to be sold at auction to raise some capital for an island charity.

Readers are invited to place sealed bids in time for the auction on 17 March 2016.

Andy went to St Helena to improve social housing on the island, but made his mark in other ways as well: not least as a costumed stand-in for Napoleon at community events.

In his spare time he indulged his talent as an artist. The colours and shapes of buildings in Jamestown were a favourite theme.

Back home in the UK at the end of his contract, he has decided to take time out of housing work to chance his arm – as he puts it – as a working artist. He’s already built up a full order book.

He was so delighted to have his paintings chosen for the island stamps that he has decided to sell off his favourite, showing Main Street, for an island cause.

He says: “The proceeds will go to a St Helena charity, yet to be decided (mainly because I have no idea what the painting will sell for).

“I have also offered to auction a painting, again for a St Helena charity, when the RMS St Helena is moored in London.”

He bought up 100 copies of the first day cover showing his stamps and gave half of them to family and friends. He is selling signed copies of the rest at £15 a time – having allowed the Post Office to reproduce the originals for no fee.

The original of his Main Street scene will be auctioned as part of a sale at the Grosvenor Auction House in The Strand, London. Details can be found on Andy’s website (see the link below).

As St Helena’s first housing officer, Andy had to address severe problems with the state of government housing, as well as coming up with designs for new rented homes. Funding for them is still awaited. The job was challenging, but life on the island was rewarding.

On his website, Andy tells how he developed his technique of using a palette knife and brushes to produce of paintings of Frigiliana in Andalucia, where he had his first solo exhibition in 2009.

On St Helena, he found it “a challenge to apply the same knife and brush angles” to the rugged volcanic cliffs and vivid colours of Jamestown.

He arrived on the island in 2012 and by December 2014 his collection was large enough to warrant an exhibition in the Museum of St Helena.

“The exhibition was a great success, resulting in 12 commissions and the honour of having four of my paintings reproduced as postage stamps,” he says.

Contact Andy to find out more via his website, www.frigiliarte.com (click on More in the top menu).
Place a bid for the painting at www.grosvenorauctions.com

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Last hurrah for St Helena boatmen as sea freight deal is signed

A contract to operate a cargo ship to replace the RMS St Helena has been signed – and it will include a small number of passenger berths for the Ascension run.

The deal with AW Ship Management Ltd has been completed four months before the planned retirement date for the RMS St Helena. The company has yet to buy a ship to operate the service.

But it appears the legendary skills of the St Helena boatmen in unloading cargo at sea will no longer be needed: the new vessel will be able to berth at the wharf that is nearing completion in Rupert’s Bay.

It will sail from Cape Town to St Helena and back every five weeks, moving to a four-weekly cycle after a year. It will also operate a voyage to Ascension every two months.

It is expected to depart Cape Town for the first time voyage to St Helena on 27 July 2016, arriving on 2 August.

Unlike the RMS St Helena, the new service will not be subsidised, meaning some cargo prices may rise.

A St Helena Government statement says:

“The intention is for the new cargo service to continue on as seamlessly as possible from the St Helena Line service.

“AW Ship Management will now move ahead with purchasing its own vessel dedicated to the St Helena and Ascension service. ”

“The ship selected will be a geared container ship capable of carrying 250 TEU or equivalent. The vessel will be around 100m long, with a breadth of approximately 18m and a summer draft of 4.5m. Thus, AWSM will be able to discharge cargo alongside at Rupert’s Bay even in a fully loaded condition.

“Cargo bookings for the new service are now being accepted. AWSM’s agents and contact details remain the same as the current service for ease of transition.

“AWSM will be making a small number of passenger cabins available on the new vessel so that passenger sea services can be maintained for those wishing to travel by sea to and from Ascension.

“The dedicated ship for this service will be owned by AWSM and operated with the same skill and dedication that has been applied to the RMS St Helena since 2001. The use of a dedicated ship will ensure that a reliable schedule can be maintained.

“AWSM has been involved in the shipping of cargo to and from St Helena for sixteen years and is fully aware of the importance of a regular, reliable and direct freight service to the island.”

Freight rates are expected to be “broadly the same as the rates for the RMS”. They have been submitted to the island government for approval.

“It is inevitable that rates for certain types of cargo will have to rise given that the RMS is heavily subsidised, but AWSM has worked hard to ensure that such increases are kept to an absolute minimum.”

Pricing will take account of fuel prices, exchange rates and anticipated volumes.

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Connect fined £10,500 for threat to wirebirds

A “reckless failure” to protect two wirebirds has landed Connect St Helena with a fine of £10,500.

St Helena Magistrates’ Court heard that it let a contractor start work on its solar farm before full planning consent had been given – with measures to protect the endangered birds.

Conservationists in the UK praised the island’s planning and legal systems for acting swiftly to protect “one of the world’s rarest shorebirds”.

A court report said Connect St Helena halted the work as soon as it was alerted by officials. It pleaded guilty to allowing the unnamed independent local contractor to start work on the site before full development permission had been granted.

The report said: “The court found that Connect had been reckless in their failure to put in place and to enforce a system for protecting at least two wirebirds which had been seen at the development site.

“The court further concluded that there had been a risk of significant harm, due to the potentially long lasting effect on such wirebirds, being one of the rarest and therefore most endangered species of birds in the world.”

It said the company had otherwise complied effectively with planning regulations.

“The incident was however considered to be a very serious offence and the court accordingly fined Connect the sum of £10,500 with costs of £15.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has funded wirebird conservation on St Helena, said: “The RSPB applauds the work of the planning and legal authorities in this matter.

“The wirebird is one of the world’s rarest shorebirds, with only about 430 adults remaining.

“Planning rules need to be followed if St Helena is to protect its remarkable environment and realise the benefits of eco-tourism.”

The £10,000 fine is small when seen against the million pounds Connect was given approval to invest in its first solar farm in 2014.

Panels on the farm at Half Tree Hollow capture the sun’s rays to generate electricity.

Along with wind turbines on Deadwood Plain, they help the island generate more than 30% of its electricity from renewable sources – more than double the rate in the UK.

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