2012: a year of change, part 3 – July to September

The airport supply ship became the first ever to dock at St Helena; a campaign began to encourage young people to work in traditional industries; Ivy Ellick announced an ambition to restore the lost spire of St James’s Church; new smoking restrictions came into force; the opening of the new airport haul road was marked by a bright flash that knocked out the island electricity supply; and scientists photographed previously-unseen marine life around Ascension.

JULY

Bore holes were drilled around the island by crews seeking new drinking water sources. But several proved to be unstable or too dry. Airport contractor Basil Read was also drilling for water, to provide the three million litres it expected to need during the construction work.

It emerged that advice was being sought on preventing sex abuse and providing treatment to offenders, after the UK’s White Paper on overseas territories highlighted the difficulties of dealing with the issue in small island communities. One proposal was to set up a sex offenders’ register. Prison visitor Catherine Turner said: “I get to see the heartache of the survivors and their families, frustration of the prison staff and police who do not want to release a prisoner who is likely to re-offend, and the fear of prisoners who know that they will probably re-offend if not treated.”

Money was set aside for a new prison at Half Tree Hollow after a succession of experts found the Victorian jail in Jamestown was unfit for use. The island’s human rights action plan had raised several concerns about conditions for inmates.

Paul Starkie was named as the next head of Prince Andrew School – 20 years after he and his Saint wife Lisa left the island for work overseas.

The government announced plans to introduce a minimum wage. Research would be needed on the impact on private sector businesses.

A picture of Colin Lawrence’s toes poking out from an old boot was entered in National Geographic’s annual photography competiton. American photographer Tiffany Devereux said his boot epitomised the spirit of St Helena.

Colin Owen told a newspaper he had to answer an unexpected question when he was interviewed for a job as head of the audit service: how would he cope without potatoes? He said going without certain foods was a fact of island life, and the ketchup tasted funny.

Concerns about the welfare of Jonathan the tortoise, the world’s oldest known living creature, prompted the planning board to approve new fencing at Plantation House to protect him from over-enthusiastic sightseers.

History was made when the NP Glory 4 became the first ship ever to dock at St Helena. Pictures show heavy construction vehicles being driven down the bow ramp of the airport supply ship on to a specially-built landing stage in Rupert’s Bay. The airport company’s island director admitted he had been nervouse, and praised the teamwork of everyone involved.

Financial Secretary Paul Blessington left the island to seek urgent medical attention. With the RMS St Helena in dry dock in Cape Town, he hitched a passage aboard the NP Glory 4. The voyage to Namibia was prolonged by storms.

Island contractors would be asked to help clear a “challenging” backlog of maintenance work on government buildings and infrastructure, it was announced, after advisers issued a strong rebuke for a failure to spend millions of pounds of aid.

A travel writer from Australia celebrated St Helena’s mixed cultural heritage, saying: “Each islander is a walking United Nations and each child is a lucky dip in the lottery of genes.”

Hilda Clingham, the oldest person on St Helena, died just a week short of her 102nd birthday.

Members of the RMS St Helena crew took a break from work in the dry dock to see Manchester United play against Ajax Cape Town.

Julian Morris, the man driving the transformation of St Helena’s economy, warned that tourist businesses on the island must adapt to modern standards if they were to withstand competition from overseas once the airport had opened. He also said he would not be able to run a tourist business in existing conditions, because it was “too tough”.

Rebecca Lawrence became the first St Helenian to leave the island to train as a vet, after winning a five-year Commonwealth Scholarship to study at the University of Nottingham. Four other students left to start overseas study.

A doubling of internet speeds and lower charges were promised as part of a new ten-year contract for Cable & Wireless South Atlantic to run the island’s communications.

The story of a St Helena slave came to light when councillor Mervyn Yon attended an overseas conference. Fellow delegates told him Samuel Ally’s grave was well known on the Isle of Man. He left St Helena as a servant with Governor Wilks in the 19th Century, but died young. Councillor Yon promised to send a wreath.

Primary school pupils beat a challenging target for improvements in English and maths, but there was continuing concern about “unacceptable” literacy among boys.

A last walk was held to King and Queen Rocks before the area was closed off in readiness for the start of construction work on the airport site.

A new gym was fitted on the deck of the RMS St Helena after being put together in the UK and shipped to Cape Town. But the ship was delayed after its annual refit because a software failure disabled its main crane, meaning it would not be able to unload cargo at St Helena.

Alfreda Yon secured a degree-level qualification after persuading the Chartered Management Institute that she really could not travel to the UK just to have a conversation with examiners. She became the institute’s first student to be examined over a live video link, from The Castle in Jamestown.

A new design for St Helena’s airport terminal was approved by executive councillors.

AUGUST

The Traditional Industries Campaign was launched by Enterprise St Helena and the education department, to encourage young people to take up work such as fishing and farming.

Traditional crafts such as lace and seedwork were also to become part of the school curriculum, it was announced. The crafts association had arranged to bring a teacher from New Zealand to share Maori flax-weaving techniques.

Churchwarden Ivy Ellick announced an international fundraising campaign to re-instate the spire on the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere. The spire of St James’ in Jamestown had to be dismantled in 1980 because it became unsafe.

A decision was made to build the new airport with a longer runway, meaning its opening would be delayed until 2016 – too late for the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s arrival on the island. The extra landing area would mean larger aircraft would be able to use the airstrip.

The Queen approved a new coat of arms for Ascension Island. It featured a shield supported by two turtles.

Nick Stevens broadcast to sports fans around the world as an invited contributor on the BBC World Service, giving his views by phone from the island. The executive producer said he didn’t know whether Nick was the Sportsworld programme’s most isolated pundit, but “he was the one with the shortest phone number”.

Tara Thomas attended her last meeting as a councillor before stepping down to study for an MBA degree in London, having secured a prestigious Chevening scholarship.

Work on the new airport haul road was held up because of difficulties forcing a way through hard rocks. Consent was given for gangs to work through the night to keep the project on schedule.

Lights at sea prompted a flurry of calls to Saint FM. They turned out to be from an oil rig being towed past the island.

Hundreds of people gathered for the Reading Sports, the biggest annual gathering of UK Saints. Johnny Clingham teamed up with St Helena Online and Saint FM to produce a special radio programme, and Enterprise St Helena set up a live video link. Picture galleries were published by St Helena Online and the St Helena Association, which organised the fund-raiser.

Serious failings were found in an audit report on St Helena’s new customs building. It said frequent changes to decisions delayed its completion and left it “unfit for use“. The report said it was unsafe and staff should not be working in it.

SEPTEMBER

New tobacco controls became law on 1 September 2012. Smoking would be banned in all buildings and vehicles used by the public, and under-18s would not be allowed to smoke outside private homes. Bar owners feared they would lose trade.

The airport haul route was finally been blasted through, and as the first heavy vehicles were being driven up the Pipe Ridge in fading light, a bright light filled the sky: one of them had brought down a power cable. The electricity supply for most of the island was knocked out, just as many people were cooking supper. The supply was quickly re-routed, but the cable itself could not be reconnected in bad weather, and Deadwood remained without power throughout the night.

Inmates of Jamestown prison were given an exemption from the new tobacco ordinance, which made it illegal to smoke in “public buildings”.

A new Natural Resources Management Plan was also approved by executive councillors.

Work began on building a new pathway from the landing stage at Lemon Valley, and recreating an historic staircase that was once part of the fortifications.

A second E-coli alert was issued, this time in Rupert’s Valley, but the water supply was declared free of contamination four days later.

An exclusion zone was declared off the north east coast of the island because it was feared that explosions on the airport site would loosen rock on unstable cliffs.

A review of new services to replace Sandy Bay clinic was “generally positive”, according to Governor Capes. Bus services were laid on to take patients to Half Tree Hollow.

More human remains were found in Rupert’s Valley, on the site of the bulk fuel farm. It was thought they had previously been unearthed at another site and “dumped” further up the valley.

A call to re-bury skeletons from the 2008 excavation was made by councillor Bernice Olsson, who said it was cruel and disrespectful to keep them in a store for several years. She also said St Helena should create an international memorial to all those who died in the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade, and become a centre for visitors who wanted to understand more about what victims went through.

The cut in seats on RAF flights for St Helena passengers was reversed – partly. The island’s allocation had been cut from 26 to ten, but was doubled to 20 after lobbying. It was felt the cut had harmed visitor numbers.

Governor Capes praised islanders who rallied raised a search when three-year-old Ziggy Joshua went missing near Hutt’s Gate, only days after arriving on the island from Ascension with his family.

A scientific exploration of inshore waters around Ascension Island yielded discoveries of previously unrecorded marine life – and vivid pictures.

St Helena’s distillery announced it would be launching a new product: Jamestown Gin.

Councillors who responded to a survey said they supported transparency in government, but did not want to end the “undemocratic” practice of holding executive council meetings behind closed doors, and keeping agendas, reports and minutes secret. Some said they feared openness would inflame hidden tensions.

SEE ALSO:
January to March
April to June
The best stories of 2012

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