Saints working on Ascension could face a 15,000-mile trip to get home – just 700 miles away – if the fears of one St Helena councillor are realised.
The Hon Derek Thomas spoke in response to news that the newly announced air service for St Helena will not include flights to Ascension. The RMS St Helena is due to make its last voyage between the islands in mid-2016.
Chief secretary Roy Burke said efforts were still being made to find a replacement link – by air or sea.
Mr Thomas told fellow councillors: “Saints flying up to the UK from Ascension and the Falkland Islands [and then] to Johannesburg will simply not work.
“We need to have an agreement in place to take account of Saints working both on Ascension and [the Falklands] to enable them to continue their careers on these islands and be able to return to St Helena.”
The Hon Lawson Henry said it was “shameful” that flights to Ascension – connecting with the Royal Air Force service between the UK and the Falklands – had not been agreed in the contract with Comair.
He said: “Let us remember how it became possible for St Helena to have air access, as opposed to continuing with shipping, when the referendum was taken all those years ago.
“Saints living on Ascension and the Falklands took part in the referendum and it was only because of their vote we were able to get a majority in favour of air access. I was one of those Saints voting.
“We did so because we were told there would be a link to Ascension.
“This is something our government has failed to acknowledge, and it is shameful.
“All those announcements last week make no mention of those Saints on Ascension and the Falklands. They have simply been forgotten, even though they continue to make significant contributions to St Helena.
“They own property on St Helena and continue to pay taxes on this property where it is rented.
“This government and the British government need to acknowledge the contribution made by these Saints. By not doing so there is going to be a continual black cloud over air access and it will distract [from] what should be the most important time in our history.”
The Hon Corinda Essex said the lack of a link with Ascension was “the biggest elephant in the room”.
And she feared work opportunities on Ascension and the Falklands would be lost without a replacement for the RMS – just as job contracts end with the completion of St Helena’s airport.
“The loss of offshore jobs could spell disaster to economic growth on St Helena,” she said.
- According to various websites, the distances are: Ascension to the UK, 3,559 miles; London to Johannesburg, 5,645 miles; Jo’burg to St Helena, 2,283 miles. Add 3,800 miles for those flying from the Falklands to Ascension, and a tricky 60-mile journey across southern England between RAF Brize Norton and London Heathrow – with no connecting flight. The total journey time would be well over 24 hours.