Airport begins to receive weekly flights

The airport on St Helena has begun to receive weekly flights from South Africa. There are hopes that this development will increase tourism on the island, and boost its economy.

Before the airport was built St Helena was only accessible via a boat journey from Africa which covered thousands of miles and took weeks to complete. This made it difficult for people to reach the island. The building of an airport on the island did not initially solve this problem, as dangerous wind conditions delayed the start of regular flights.

Now, with the introduction of weekly flights, islanders and tourists alike can more easily reach St Helena. This increased flow of visitors could provide a much-needed boost to the island’s economy.

Tourists can, among other things, go diving, visit the various sites paying homage to St Helena’s long and varied history, or experience a tour of downtown Jamestown with guide Basil George.

A recent visitor to the island was a journalist from The Associated Press, a global online news platform based in New York City.

Read the original story here.

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St Helena’s airport: a boon-what? We’re boggled…

It took a week for Donald Trump’s favourite news outlet to get round to reporting on the first commercial flight to St Helena. But when it did so, Fox News introduced an interesting new word for the airport project.

It said it was “condemned last year by British taxpayers as a boondoggle.”

Various online dictionaries define a boondoggle as an American word meaning a pointless, wasteful project. Fox News might (not) like to put that to Governor Lisa Phillips, and see if she has another good word for them.

Urbandictionary.com helpfully gives an example of the correct use of the word:

“You’re such a Boondoggle, all you like to do is drink urine while staring at the dead corpse of your grandma.”

It’s also what American boy scouts use to hold their neckerchiefs in place. British scouts call this a woggle, another term that doesn’t really describe an airport.

The Fox News piece actually offers some good insights into St Helena life and heritage, including the wrangling over whether jury trials can ever work on the island.

It opens by listing some of the quirky place names to be found on St Helena, including The Gates of Chaos (that one’s always seemed apt) and Old Woman’s Valley.

They’re a lot more sensible than “boondoggle”.

If they wanted quirky place names, why no mention of Half Tree Hollow – which isn’t hollow, and doesn’t have half a tree?

(Does anyone know how Half Tree Hollow got its name? Maybe it was the half-tree that was hollow?).

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New course offers hope for fishing industry

A new maritime training course is being created to increase the rates of young pepole entering into the fishing industry on St Helena.

This is a response to concern about the future of the industry, because not enough young people are taking up fishing to sustain it.

St Helena’s education committee received a report from St Helena Community College, which would run the course, at its meeting on 16 October 2017.

Business teacher Fraser Stone told the committee was was planning to introduce a new enterprise and marketing course through the college “in the coming weeks”.

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‘World’s most spectacular airport’ makes global news. Mostly good

The Daily Mirror headline read: ‘World’s most useless airport’ finally gets its first commercial flight – and it’s LATE.

Well, it was an irresistable line.

The paper’s report of St Helena’s first commercial flight included a nice quote from tour operator Libby Weir-Breen, who had flown specially from Scotland. “I’ve never felt so emotional in all my life,” she said.

Japan, Germany, New Zealand, America… even the UK: the story pretty much flew round the world.

And people on the island helped tell to tell it. A video of the landing, shot by Geoff Cooper from one of the public vantage points, was re-tweeted to 12 million followers of America’s ABC News.

A picture by Ed Thorpe of the Devil’s Hole Black Rocks, on a part of the island few tourists will ever see, gained international exposure from Associated Press, which told of champagne and chocolates being handed out on the island-bound flight.

The historic flight from Johannesburg made all the BBC’s national radio news bulletins.

Ed Cropley’s piece for Reuters, transmitted to news platforms and print publications worldwide, declared that the airport brought Saints “another step closer to their inclusion in the 21st century.”

Then he spoiled it a bit by saying the island got the internet only 18 months ago – though it was true that the mobile phone network went public just days after the very first aircraft flight arrived from Africa in 2015 (a bit of a nuisance for reporters at the time).

He told how Craig Yon of Into The Blue took a booking from a group of Swedish divers within minutes of them reading online that the first flight had touched down safely.

But he might have been teasing, just a little, when he quoted Craig saying, “Things are really picking up. Before, I’d only check my emails once a day. Now I have to check them in the morning and the afternoon.”

The story in The Times was written by Michael Binyon, who spent several weeks on St Helena as a media adviser and knew what to make of it all. He disclosed that the Embraer aircraft took on enough fuel at Windhoek to allow it to circle the island for two hours if wind shear presented a problem.

The Times’s headline called the flight “nerve-shredding” – but then, Michael was quite candid about feeling nervous when walking in the steeper parts of St Helena. The headline contrasted with the comment made by one American passenger quoted by Michael: “Wind shear – my ass.”

Britain’s Daily Telegraph carried a lengthy preview piece, but noted that its travel team had been able to find unsold tickets for the inaugural flight on ebookers.com at £395 one-way.

Sadly, its piece was accompanied by a picture of St Helena’s Church on the island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel: not the first time that image has featured in St Helena coverage.

The story turned up in some surprising places. DeathRattleSports.com was unusual in acknowledging the “colossal civil engineering challenge” involved in building the airport, though it didn’t convey the enormous scale of the achievement.

A write-up in Dive Magazine had some complimentary things to say about the island and its surrounding waters, especially the presence of whale sharks, following writer Mark “Crowley” Russell’s visit in early 2017. The magazine is somewhat specialised, but there could be strong interest among its readers in visiting St Helena.

Chris Morris’s opening paragraph for fortune.com might have caused a few disappointed sighs at the St Helena Tourism office.

“Ever wanted to visit the British island of St. Helena?” it ran. “Of course you haven’t. Virtually no one does. But now you can.”

Actually you always could, Chris – and lots of people did.

But then, Chris seems to have been a bit confused about the nature of islands, telling readers that St Helena “is literally in the middle of nowhere, floating in the Atlantic ocean between Brazil and the African coastline.”

Islands don’t actually float, Chris. And “literally” literally means… oh, never mind.

Emma Weaver’s well-researched preview of the flight in The Guardian says travel companies are actually showing interest in St Helena, “in a world where remoteness is seen as a luxury”.

The BBC also got muddled up about its seasons, stating that safety tests happened “in the summer”. Could the piece have been knocked out by a journalist in London who didn’t know that August is winter time in the southern hemisphere? (And this was on the BBC Africa pages!).

Bizarrely, the mistake was then repeated on the Radio New Zealand website, which apparently got it from The Guardian.

The Mail Online carried a lengthy, fact-filled piece alongside two agency reports, detailing the island’s history and attractions but also references to the amount of aid the island receives (the Daily Mail has a thing about overseas aid). Sadly, it blew up in the final few words:

“St Helena is a remote volcanic outpost covering just over 75 miles squared,” it declared.

On an island measuring ten miles by six at the widest points, that would involve a neat bit of land-reclamation, even for Basil Read. And “miles squared” is not the same as square miles: 75 miles squared is, let’s see… 75 times 75… that’s 5,625 square miles.

The website’s multi-level headline also muddled up the flight time and the length of the sea voyage to St Helena:

“The British overseas territory was previously only reachable by a six-hour boat,” it said. At that speed, no wonder the RMS has had propellor problems.

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The BBC said the RMS was “a ship that sailed every three weeks”. So what did it do the rest of the time?

Inevitably, many outlets recycled the “world’s most useless airport” tag, without saying who was being quoted, or where the quote came from. It started appearing in various newspapers in May this year, and keeps cropping up. A parliamentary committee report called the airport “useless”, but “world’s most useless” is a big step up.

Governor Phillips had a firm response to all that. “I’ve seen the headlines about the world’s most useless airport,” she told Reuters, “but for St. Helenians, this has already been the most useful airport. It’s priceless.”

Ed Cropley, who is Africa bureau chief for Reuters, tweeted a departing shot of the runway that bestowed an even more flattering tag: “St Helena airport, certainly world’s most spectacular airport.”

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BBC slideshow paints a bleak picture of a beautiful island

BBC Africa’s online slideshow on the first commercial flight to St Helena might be felt to misrepresent the island’s beauty. It opens with Gianluigi Guercia’s striking image of the aircraft wing, with the looming bulk of The Barn in the background.

A few airport shots follow, and then the piece closes with the gloomiest possible quotation from Napoleon, whose view of St Helena was hardly going to be positive:

“In this accursed island… there is neither sun nor moon to be seen for the greatest part of the year. Constant rain and fog. It is worse than Capri.”

And that’s the end of the slideshow. No jaw-dropping images of the island’s green heartland, or the spectacle of Sandy Bay, or the colonial charm of Jamestown. None of the BBC’s famous “balance”.

Many of the media reports dwelt heavily on the reasons for the long delay in opening the airport, with very little description of the island.

Mail Online and a few others carried spectacular photographs, which went some way to telling readers why they might actually want to visit.

The Travel Pulse website was one of the few to devote any words to the island’s attractions, including Napoleana, hiking, stunning landscapes and “interactions with marine life”.

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Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door

HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

SEE ALSO: 
Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

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UK recycles £290,000 on South Atlantic rubbish

Britain’s environmental bosses have been rebuked in the past for failing to engage with the UK overseas territories; now they might be criticised for doing so.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has committed £190,000 to increase paper and cardboard recycling on St Helena.

Crudely, that’s a little over £40 per Saint.

It is also spending £99,000 to bring in a waste management strategy on Ascension Island, said minister Therese Coffey in answer to a parliamentary question.

Those who have seen the rubbish tipped over the cliff at Ladder Hill Fort might see this as a good use of funds, especially given the need to tidy up St Helena in readiness for the arrival of flying tourists.

Probably best not to tell the Daily Mail, though: it has a very different idea of “waste”.

(Source: theyworkforyou.com)

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Crazy paving: 18th century slabs cause a ripple in Jamestown

When workmen broke up the concrete pathway at the bottom of Main Street, they uncovered an 18th century pavement that would have been the perfect finishing touch to the island’s new hotel.

Here was a historic feature almost as old as the hotel structure itself: a row of East India Company buildings soon to welcome the kind of high-end tourists who appreciate a bit of heritage.

Robert Midwinter, overseeing the work for Enterprise St Helena, was very excited. “When the contractors were breaking up the concrete, I was actually there,” he says. “I ran straight over to Jeremy.”

That’s Jeremy Harris of the St Helena National Trust. He contacted Adam Sizeland at the museum, who raced up with a camera to photograph the discovery.

“It was beautiful,” says Robert. “We got the chief engineer over and got in touch with the chief planning officer.”

They were asked if the planning consent for the hotel could be varied to incorporate the newly exposed stone slabs as a feature. They’d have to be raised up to the new height of the pavement, but it was all agreed.

The slabs provided an unexpected chance to complete work started by the former planning chief, David Taylor, to bring back the old look of Georgian Jamestown.

So far, so smooth. Unlike the stones, it seems. “Unfortunately, when the contractor started relaying them, [they] couldn’t get an even surface. They’re quite ripply on top.

“The contractor did a section, and the chief enginer came out and had a look and called out Jeremy, and it was agreed that for public safety couldn’t use them. We couldn’t get approval.”

Nick Thorpe, long-time champion of St Helena heritage, had been appalled to see the slabs replaced with modern concrete blocks.

“Could be a trip hazard, they say. ‘Visit historic St Helena is a sad joke.”

The old pavement outside 1-3 Main Street, freshly exposed

The old pavement outside 1-3 Main Street, freshly exposed

And Rob’s smooth explanation failed to satisfy Nick, who  produced a picture of the freshly-exposed slabs looking not exactly bumpy.

“The surface of the original pavement was perfect, as good as any you would encounter in Bath. My original comments still stand.”

The modern concrete paving blocks that have been laid are considered an improvement on the concrete, but they’re very obviously not historic. “They’ll weather over time,” says Robert, hopefully.

“It would have been so nice to incorporate the originals but unfortunately, we can’t. We had to try.”

And it wasn’t all disappointment. “Under that concrete was also the original kerbstones. They will be part of the project. That’s a continuation of what we’ve got in the rest of Main Street. We’ve put new pavement down but we’re using original kerb stones, so it looks almost the same.”

The hope had been that the pavement would be as pleasing as the cobblestones on the other side of the street that had also been covered by concrete and later brought back into the light… only for some of them to be dug up to make way for high-speed computer cabling.

At least these days, he says, there is an understanding of the importance of heritage features. “In the old days people didn’t show that level of care. People are getting on the ball now. We stopped the work. The National trust came over. There is a record of what was uncovered.”

As for the ancient slabs, they will be stored and preserved by the National Trust. “If they are able to be used in some heritage project somewhere, they will be.”

That’s as long as no one nicks them.

  • Far be it for us to suggest that the heightened concerns about safety might be something to do with a new breed of hotel guests, rich enough to sue for injuries…
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Red Cross launches appeal as hurricane hits UK territories

The British Red Cross has launched an appeal for people caught in the path of Hurricane Irma, including in UK overseas territories in the Caribbean.

The category five hurricane is the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Trevor Botting, former chief of police on St Helena, has been posting updates on Twitter from the Turks and Caicos Islands, where he is in the same role. “It’s going to be a rough few days,” he wrote, with the storm expected to hit on Thursday evening.

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Red Cross teams in Barbuda and the British territory of Anguilla are reporting extensive damage. Its volunteers have been gathering relief supplies in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Photographs from the British Virgin Islands have shown a large fleet of hire yachts piled up on one another, with many overturned.

Click here to help survivors of Hurricane Irma

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have promised strong support, especially for the UK territories.

Mr Johnson said: “Our thoughts go out to the people who have been affected, to those families who have lost loved ones, and as you can expect we are doing everything we can with humanitarian relief and assistance.

“We have the fleet auxiliary boat RFS Mounts Bay in the vicinity, we have people on the ground.

“But what we will be doing now is making an urgent assessment of the further needs of communities in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla to see what more can be done in terms of financial and humanitarian assistance.”

Ben Webster, head of emergencies at the British Red Cross, said: “Given the scale of the anticipated emergency, any response will likely be highly complex. Some of the islands that are expected to be hit are isolated, and lack basic infrastructure.

“The impact on those communities could be catastrophic.

“Many of the Red Cross branches are already in response mode as they have been dealing with floods in the weeks before Hurricane Irma. Now they must prepare for another emergency – and another storm is following behind.”

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Fund for Ascension shark victim reaches double its target

More than $10,000 has been raised for Kawika Matsu, the victim of a shark attack in English Bay on Ascension Island. That is double the initial target – which was raised within 24 hours.

The 37-year-old contract worker suffered severe lacerations to his torso on July 25 after being attacked within seconds of falling from his paddle board.

Click here to read about the attack on the Daily Telegraph website

Daniel Schempp, until recently head of the 45 Space Wing of the US Air Force on Ascension, started the fund to help meet the costs of his friend Kawika’s long recovery.

In a Facebook update, he posted: “Kawika made it back to Florida.

“He’s doing well, going to be in and out of surgeries and his family arrived. He’s absolutely floored and deeply touched by all the support. Thank you to everyone who gave of themselves financially, socially or in prayers!

“I am honored to have known such a community, it speaks volumes about the quality of Ascension and all her people.”

Saints were among those who made generous donations.

Click here to make a donation

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