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:

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

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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