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Flights: chief sec admits doubts over medical care and crime

St Helena’s chief secretary has admitted to concerns about notorious crime at the airport that is to be the island’s link with the rest of the world – and about the future of medical referrals to Cape Town.

But Roy Burke could offer little response to an accusation of a “shameful” betrayal of Saints working on Ascension and the Falkland Islands, who could be left with no ship and no flights back to St Helena.

Comair Ltd will not offer a link to Ascension when St Helena’s first airport opens in 2016, because it would take pilots over their permitted flying time.

The Honourable Lawson Henry voiced anger, during Legislative Council’s closing adjournment debate, that Saints on sister islands had been left out.

He said it was their votes that had swung the referendum in favour of building an airport.

He also told how he had had his luggage interfered with at the airport, which is notorious for crime.

Mr Burke, in his closing speech, said: “We are all aware of Johannesburg airport’s issues. We will take action to make sure the citizens of St Helena and the travelling public are aware of the issues that are faced there.”

The Honourable Dr Corinda Essex had also voiced anxiety about whether hospital patients would still be sent to Cape Town, where a strong support network had built up among Saints and supporters. Johannesburg had no such network, she said.

Mr Burke said: “I too share that concern, as does the director for health, and we are currently in progress to find a way in which we can resolve that situation.

“Can the link to Cape Town be maintained? That’s a very good question and  I don’t have a short answer to that at the moment.

“But I would say that as far as medical referral issues are concerned, it does not necessarily mean that because Comair are flying to Johannesburg, that Johannesburg would be our evacuation point for a medical emergency, which is a different issue.

“It’s possible someone who needed to be evacuated very urgently might have to go somewhere else, and that might not be Cape Town either. So there’s a lot of work going on there to do with medical evacuation, which has yet to be concluded.”

Mr Burke could give little reassurance over future transport for Saint workers travelling for work on Ascension and the Falkland Islands.

They are to lose their current link between St Helena and Ascension – and onward flights to the Falklands – when the RMS is withdrawn from service in mid 2016.

The chief secretary said: “There are ongoing discussions about Ascension, particularly the link with St Helena: whether that is to be by air or sea. [There is] a lot of discussion to be had.

“Keep in mind that St Helena Government, in seeking to secure an air service provider, and also a freight service, included Ascension in the tender documents, although there was no requirement for those companies to provide [for that] as part of the contact.

“But those discussions continue and will continue until a resolution is found.”

Councillors Henry and Essex were among several elected members to welcome the news that Comair was to operate Saturday flights between St Helena and Johannesburg in a British Airways plane.

MORE AIR LINK COVERAGE: 
Saturday flights in BA livery confirmed for St Helena
‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights
Don’t cast aside ‘family’ of carers in Cape Town, officials urged
I had my bag pilfered at Johannesburg, says Lawson
Ronnie takes flight
Flights to Europe and Cape Town ‘still up in the air’
Blast masters: Alan and co fire the last explosion on aircraft site

‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights

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.

I had my bag pilfered at Johannesburg, says Lawson

Saints will be flying in and out of an airport with a high crime rate and a reputation for losing baggage, the Hon Lawson Henry told fellow legislative councillors. He spoke from experience.

He said: “Many Saints, including myself, have had to travel to Johannesburg to gain links to other international airports, and our experiences have not been good. I have had my baggage pilfered and I know at least one other member of this house has suffered the same fate. There are real concerns for our people’s security.”

The Hon Dr Corinda Essex shared his concerns.

She said: “A further concern relates to the high crime rate and lack of security in Johannesburg in comparison with Cape Town.

“Saints, particularly those travelling for the first time, will need advice and guidance regarding personal safety and that of their belongs, particularly as an overnight stop is likely to be required southbound. How will this be provided?”

MORE AIR LINK COVERAGE: 
Saturday flights in BA livery confirmed for St Helena
Flights: chief sec admits doubts over medical care and crime
‘Shameful’: workers left adrift by lack of Ascension flights

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