The dream of ships berthing at a permanent dock in St Helena has moved closer to reality.
Approval has been given for work on the proposed permanent wharf in Rupert’s Valley to move to a final design stage.
It was not made clear whether any other hurdles would have to be cleared, apart from gaining approval from the island’s planning body for changes to the original scheme.
The project will bring more jobs to the island, but some specialist workers will have to be brought in from overseas.
The new wharf would bring an end to the unloading of cargo on Jamestown’s historic wharf – though cruise ship passengers and yachties will still be able to step ashore the traditional way, at the landing steps.
The current landing stage at Rupert’s is only temporary. It was built specifically for the airport supply vessel – effectively a large landing craft – and is not suitable for conventional ships.
The decision to move forward on the project was made during the annual visit to the island by Nigel Kirby of the UK Department for International Development (Dfid) and Jimmy Johnston, of construction firm Basil Read.
It was announced by Janet Lawrence St Helena Government at a news conference on Monday, 9 September 2013.
She said: “This phase is going to involve preparation of the final designs.
“We are going to seek an amendment to the development permission that was previously granted so we can update it.”
She said a special edition of the airport newsletter would give details of the new look, which is understood to involve moving the wharf to a new position within the bay.
“There is going to be a public consulation,” she said. “Over the coming months there will be a lot more information coming out.”
Moving the proposed location of the jetty has meant more research.
Jimmy Johnston, Basil Read’s airport director, said: “We have now moved to 3D modelling, which is something to see if you haven’t seen it before.
“The modelling tank will be 30 metres by 40 metres and it will model all the aspects of the wave action that can happen on the wharf, which we have already done computer simulation for. This is just the final confirmation.
“That should be finished by the end of October.
“The designs are always being tweaked a little bit here and there but we are fairly happy with where we are now on the design side.
“The intention is to start construction in about April next year. Prior to that we will be doing a lot of testing work, before we start putting our feet into the water.”
Environmental issues have already been addressed. Divers working on a Darwin project on St Helena’s marine lift agreed to start work in Rupert’s Bay so their results would be available to the planning team.
They also looked out for signs of marine archaeology – but made no discoveries, reporters were told.
A key issue will be the level of noise and dust from trucks running through Rupert’s Valley, but this was raised at a residents’ meeting in April. Measures to minimise impact were promised.
The project looks set to bring more jobs for Saints, though Jimmy Johnston said not all could be filled from within the island.
“Probably we will be bringing some more workers from South Africa or Thailand,” he said.
“We may have some specialist divers from Ireland. We are discussing this, because it’s industrial diving.
“We are looking at two very large, 200 tonne and 150 tonne crawler cranes, so these things need specialist operators coming in.
“(In) the pre-casting yard I would like to start with Saints as much as possible. It’s a case of what is in the labour force and what is available.
“We are looking at integration of their current work to see where we can fit in with training of the people we have.
“If we don’t have sufficient, we will have to bring in people. We do have sufficient accommodation at the camp area.
“We are talking about an additional 40 people.”
At one stage, two competing schemes to build new landing stages were being pushed forward by both the UK and island governments.
St Helena Government continued to press ahead with its plans for a jetty at Jamestown, even after international development secretary of the time, Andrew Mitchell, let slip that it was being dropped.
He said in May 2012 that the plan for a commercial dock in Rupert’s Valley had become the favoured option.
It later emerged that neither scheme had enough funding behind it. Eventually, the finance pots were put together to allow the Rupert’s scheme to go ahead.
Time was running out, because it needed to be done as part of the airport project, while the expertise of Basil Read was still available on the island.
Once the airport was built, it would not have been economical for Basil Read to remain on the island.
At the latest meeting, Jimmy Johnstone was able to promise: “We will have the wharf finished before the airport will be complete.”