2012: a year of change, part 4 – October to December

A by-election drew a tiny proportion of voters; and zombies took over High Knoll Fort; Shelco warned that without flights from Europe, its planned eco resort could not succeed; one of the RMS St Helena’s engines had to be repaired at sea; Saint FM and Radio St Helena ceased broadcasting within days of each other; and a yacht was dismasted in the Governor’s Cup race.

OCTOBER

Poppy, the search dog that led rescuers to three-year-old Ziggy Joshua after he went missing in undergrowth, was presented with a commendation certificate.

The island’s Media Standards Ordinance came into effect on 9 October 2012, with Jenny Corker and Steve Biggs appointed to serve with the chief magistrate on a complaints board. The measure effectively meant St Helena had introduced statutory regulation of the media just as the idea was attracting heated debate in the UK.

Concerns were raised when it emerged that the island’s head of economic development was representing the government on the board of Solomon and Company. It was felt that this might cause a conflict of interest for Julian Morris, who was in charge of building up private enterprise; he said it would help him keep tabs on the island’s biggest company.

St Helena’s environment and built heritage must not be spoiled in the rush to build a prosperous economy, warned the director of Enterprise St Helena. Speaking at the launch of the island’s National Environmental Management Plan, Rob Midwinter said there was a risk of destroying the island’s main assets.

Part of The Castle in Jamestown could be converted into a hotel, suggested property advisers from South Africa. And so could the island prison.

Only ten of the 115 voters in Levelwood turned out to vote in a by-election. Christine Scipio-O’Dean won the council seat vacated by Tara Thomas.

Inflation fell to its lowest level for five years, announced St Helena’s economist, Owen James.

Frenchman Rémi Bruneton turned heads by flying over Longwood in a powered paraglider – described by radio presenter Tony Leo as an “overgrown pushchair”.

It was confirmed that two separate schemes to build better landing facilities were both under-funded. St Helena Government and the Department for International Development had both tried to bring down the cost of their respective schemes for Jamestown and Rupert’s Bay, and talks were taking place between them.

A blood-soaked, knife-wielding zombie was one of the stars of a Hallowe’en haunting at High Knoll Fort, organised by New Horizons youth team. The next day, a low-flying aircraft led the annual carnival procession down Main Street.

A father’s plea for a home led to the disclosure that up to eight families were homeless or likely to lose their home as the arrival of airport workers put pressure on housing supply and pushed up rents. The government said it was working on a housing policy to help homeless people and prevent overcrowding.

A descendant of Governor Skottowe kept a promise to give the island a copy of his great, great, great, great, great grandfather’s portrait, after flying half way round the world to buy the original.

NOVEMBER

Alan Crowe, St Helena’s new housing executive, said he was excited by the challenge of tackling the island’s growing problem with providing enough homes. The key was to avoid the runaway house price inflation seen in the UK, he said.

Teacher James Greenwood, who had just introduced introduced Classics to Prince Andrew School, appealed to his 5,000 global followers on Twitter for help staging a Roman feast. “Any suggestions for an alt(ernative) to rue that’s similar in taste?” he asked. “Don’t have it on St Helena!”

St Helena’s cricket heroes were presented with their first international caps – donated by an overseas Saint who was inspired by their achievements in their debute overseas tournament in South Africa.

Cathy Alberts became St Helena’s new tourism chief, leaving a similar job in Cape Town. Her experience included setting up opportunities for tourists to swim with sharks.

Endemic plants worth hundreds of pounds were stolen from the Millennium Forest nursery at Longwood. Many of the gumwood and rosemary plants – both critically endangered species – were about to be planted as part of the Darwin project to re-establish extremely rare native flora.

Atlantic Star Airlines, set up by UK pilots hoping to provide an air service for St Helena, was referred to in public for the first time by Linda Houston of resort developer Shelco, who praised their ambition. “They believe it’s viable to fly from the UK via Europe to St Helena and include flights to the Cape and to Ascension,” said Linda, in an interview with Saint FM. She also said Shelco’s Wirebird Hills project could not succeed without flights from Europe.

Jamestown’s planned jetty was put on hold for at least four years so that funding could be transferred to held pay for a permanent cargo wharf in Rupert’s Bay.

The French consul, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, hosted a party at the Briars Pavilion to celebrate his 25 years as guardian of the Napoleonic heritage on St Helena.

Governor Capes paid tribute to former councillor Michael “Newpence” Benjamin, who had died at the age of 58. He praised his “sharp wit”, and called him “a great loss to St Helena”.

Hours later, the Castle announced the passing in Australia of former financial secretary – and scout leader – Paul Blessington. “His memory will live on in the hearts and minds of so many people here in St Helena,” said the governor.

Campaigners held events to oppose domestic violence, as growing numbers of people reported being attacked in their homes. Six people had been arrested within three months – one of them a woman.

Pensioners on Tristan da Cunha finished building a traditional stone cottage, thatched with flax. It will serve as a museum.

Steve Biggs declined to take up his place on the new media standards board, meaning it would not be able to sit until new members had been recruited. But only one complaint had been made about the media in the first few weeks of regulation, and it was ruled ineligible to be considered.

An investigation revealed that the 2011 shipwreck and oil spill near Tristan da Cunha was caused by a drowsy officer who thought Nightingale Island was a rain cloud.

Fifty eight finance staff at the Castle were told some of them could be made redundant. A review was under way. The news came came a week after it was announced that David Thomson, the government’s director of infrastructure, had been “released from his contract” in another reorganisation. Councillors wrote to The Sentinel saying they had not been briefed on the re-structuring before it was made public, but acting governor Owen Sullivan said the island’s Memorandum of Understanding with the UK gave officials a “clear mandate” for the work.

DECEMBER

An engineer flew out via Ascension to carry out challenging repairs at sea after one of the RMS St Helena’s engines broke down, when the port-side turbo charger failed. Despite the difficulties, the ship kept close to its schedule and the repair was successful.

A US Space Agency satellite took a picture of a vortex of swirling clouds over St Helena, created by winds hitting the island’s mountains after blowing without obstruction for hundreds of miles.

In his Christmas message, Governor Capes looked back on a year of progress and adjustment. “Let us not fear change,” he said, “let us embrace it and the new opportunities it will bring.  Let us pull together as one to achieve the prosperity and the improved standard of living it will make possible – better social services, better infrastructure, better opportunities for our young people for rewarding careers on St Helena.”

Saint FM closed down with only two days’ notice on 21 December, after eight years of bring the sounds of home to Saints around the world – and challenging authority. Owner Mike Olsson blamed the impending launch of three government-funded rival stations. Moments before the station closed, he said, “I think we changed the island.”

Twenty yachts set sail from Simon’s Town in South Africa at the start of the ninth Governor’s Cup yacht race to St Helena – the largest fleet yet.

Radio St Helena went off air at midnight on Christmas Day, 45 years after being launched as the world’s most remote radio station. It closed down to make way for three new stations being set up by the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation, but by the end of the year they had still not gone live – leaving the island with only a hastily-organised relay of the BBC World Service.

Newly-released government papers revealed how UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher had to insist on Britain’s right to use Ascension Island as an air base during the Falklands War.

Caz Yon, who trained herself in veterinary skills, was awarded the MBE for her many community roles on Ascension Island.

Governor’s Cup yachts Ray of Light and Black Cat both pulled into the Namibian port of Luderitz for repairs. Ray of Light turned for home with a jury rig after becoming dismasted, but Black Cat sailed on.

A Fifties-themed open-air movie night was staged at Francis Plain by New Horizons youth team. Filmgoers watched Grease under the stars, and the plo went like greased lightnin’…

As midnight passed on Old Year’s Night, the lead yacht in the 2012 Governor’s Cup race was still 17 and a half hours’ sailing time from James Bay. The St Helena Yacht Club crew would reach the island on Twelfth Night, having set off with large amounts of curry sauce.

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