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.