St Helena Online

Tag: medevac

Ship diverts 180 miles to pick up sick girl – after first offer of help was turned down

Big lift for a small girl: MV Traveller. Picture courtesy of BigLift shipping. Click the pic for a larger image
Big lift for a small girl: MV Traveller. Picture courtesy of BigLift shipping. Click the pic for a larger image

The Master and owners of a cargo ship have been praised for diverting to pick up a desperately sick child on St Helena – two days after being told their vessel was unsuitable.

The MV Traveller was the only ship to respond to a call for help put out by coastguards in the UK.

Update: sick child is ‘awake, talking and eating’

The ship’s Dutch owners, BigLift, waived all the costs of doubling back the 180 miles to St Helena, and then carrying the girl the 700 miles to Ascension Island.

The ship arrived in James Bay close to midnight on Friday, 6 March 2015, but the seven-year-old child could not be lifted aboard until 3.30 in the morning.

She was landed at Georgetown on Ascension at 2100 hours on Sunday, 8 March, and taken straight to a waiting military plane, arriving at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London on Monday lunchtime.

Martin Bidmead, senior maritime operations officer at the Coastguard Operations Centre at Falmouth, was on duty for most of the three and a half days of the evacuation effort.

He said: “Although the MV Traveller wasn’t the most suitable vessel, because she wasn’t very large, in circumstances that were fairly urgent it proved to be the best option.

“Despite being turned down initially, some time later they were asked to go back. Thankfully they were willing to turn round.”

Martin said a request for help from St Helena Radio was received in mid-afternoon on Thursday, 5 March – with the RMS St Helena five days away from the island.

“They sent a message to us asking for us to see if we could contact shipping to transfer a young female who was ill on St Helena to South Africa or Ascension for medical treatment.

“We spoke to South African authorities and there was nothing they could provide that could assist.

“We then did some satellite broadcasts, using our satellite tracking equipment for ships. There weren’t very many ships at all that could possibly help. In that part of the world the amount of shipping is fairly sparse, to be honest.

“One that did offer was a Dutch ship, the MV Traveller, a heavy lift ship.

“We spoke to the Traveller initially at 9.30 on the 6th. She responded to one of our broadcasts. We then spoke to St Helena Radio who said the vessel wouldn’t be suitable.

“She had a lack of accommodation and the medical personnel initially declined the offer. As time went on it became apparent the Traveller was probably the only option there was.”

At that point, the ship had already sailed past the island on its voyage from South Africa to the Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean, said Martin.

“I got hold of the owners in Holland and asked, would they be happy for us to turn the Traveller back to St Helena, because by this time she was nearly 180 miles to the north.

“They said they would, so I went back to the Master and asked him if he would return to St Helena, which is exactly what he did.

“The Master when I spoke to him said they were able to accommodate the casualty in their sick bay. I believe it was fairly small. The four person team who accompanied her I believe had to sleep in the saloon.

“All credit to them as well. I don’t know how they were going to get back.

“They took her to Ascension where an aircraft was waiting for her and flew her to London. They did it very professionally and very quickly.

“We were very grateful and I’m sure the young child’s family were grateful as well.”

The station at Falmouth, in Cornwall, is the international liaison station for the UK’s coastguard service.

“There is a team of four of five of us on watch,” said Martin. “We were all involved and all wishing this child a full and speedy recovery.

“The job was a little bit unusual because we tend deal with emergencies that involve shipping or leisure boats.

“It is reasonably unusual for us to have to assist someone who is on land and requires assistance from shipping.”

This was not the first occasion a call has been put out for shipping to take a dangerously sick person off St Helena, but it may be the last.

The mayday call went out only four months before a test flight is expected at St Helena’s first airport – due for completion in February 2016.

“We had a look on Google Earth and we could see it being constructed,” said Martin.

“It will be good for circumstances like this but it will effect lifestyles considerably. They will end up with people like me visiting.

“It’s one of the few places in the world I want to visit – I really do.”

  • BigLift, the owners of the MV Traveller, said in a statement that the ship was ten hours’ sailing time from St Helena when the request was made for the vessel to turn back to the island. “Her parents, a doctor and a nurse were taken on board. Assistance was requested and without hesitation, MV Traveller responded. The vessel was en route from Durban to the Virgin Islands so the deviation was relatively small. Despite the short notice we were pleased to assist and hope the girl will receive proper treatment and fully recover in time.”

Civil service versus the can-do culture: a governor’s view

In the third extract of an address to the Friends of St Helena, former governor Andrew Gurr reflects on the island’s emerging private sector, optimism and – just briefly – education. Read part one of his recollections here, and find part two here.

On the private sector

You have the private-versus-public tension, which is always there: the cry from the private sector, “Why is the public sector doing this? Why can’t we do it?”

But what happens? Classic – we saw it with dustbin men on the Falklands, we saw it with quarries on St Helena. You privatise something and immediately they exploit their fellow islanders by putting the price up.

It’s one way, I would agree, of getting rid of inefficiency in the public sector, by putting it in the private sector, but it can be quite damaging. You have to be very careful in a small island that you don’t get monopolies that become exploitative of their fellow islanders.

On no-can-do attitudes

There’s also the civil service attitude against the private sector attitude. Having worked probably an equal time in both sectors, I’m well aware of this:  the civil service no-can-do, or “I will obey the rules and follow the system” attitude against the private sector, “Yes I will do it come hell or high water,” and those two attitudes are very different and they exist even on a small island.

“There’s also the pessimism against optimism tension.  Many local people are very good at being pessimistic: “It won’t work.” “Why not?” “Because we did it before and it didn’t work.” “And why not?”  “I don’t know – we never knew.” “It might work this time.” “Oh no, what a waste of time and money.”

That was so common. What about the space race? We would never have got into space if people hadn’t put up with failure amd gone and improved on it.

“Something gets condemned right at the beginning and you get the optimists who keep on  ploughing ahead and wasting money that is never going to work.

On transparency

There is also tension between freedom of information and the proper management of that information. If everybody  is going to know everything  about everything, which is the cry over here as well, that can be very difficult in some situations, and on a small island it’s even more difficult, because everybody knows everybody and everybody’s children are known by everybody else’s children.

That lack of anonymity is one of the biggest differences between St Helena and this country. You drop a clanger here and you go to the next village and nobody knows you dropped a clanger.

But you drop a clanger on St Helena and what do you do? Escape to the UK.

On the health service

Another big problem area – the health sector. The lack of medevac – how do you get off the island if you are really ill and the ship’s just left?

Generalists are very hard to get. The whole of the health sector specialises these days: general surgeons – how do you find them.

Some sophisticated medical equipment needs regular servicing. Is a man going to come at regular intervals. or do we train up somebody to do it? And if you train up someone good they have nothing to do for two thirds of the year. It’s very difficult to make that work.

The Falkands have any number of beds here in the NHS. St Helena has two a year.

I think expectations of the island are far too high. One has to look at where the island has come from over the last two years rather than look at the UK and try and catch up with it.

I think there is also sometimes on the island a good old-fashioned service level which doesn’t exist here [in the UK]. There are big advantages there as well as disasadvantages.

On education

The education sector: girls’ academic ability and development and their exam results are far better than the boys’. There seems to be a culture among the boys that they would much rather go to Ascension and become a fireman than learn something slightly more academic – without criticising firemen.

On farming and food

The boys don’t want to go out in the fields and work, so there are all those lovely fields out at Longwood that haven’t been used for years that could be, for arable or for farm animals.

And of course you’ve got the problem of the RMS and the fact that it’s heavily subsidised, so it’s cheap to import food on the RMS rather than make it yourself.

People say, “Yes, but look how we used to provide food for ships that called.”

Apparently, if you look in the archives it’s full of complaints from ship’s captains and pursers about the high cost of what the Saints were actually selling them. If we could get the equivalent money from ships today, then farming would probably pick up again.

On the RMS St Helena

There are so many interests conflicing on the route of the RMS. How do you handle that? Very difficult. You have workshops with peo0ple and try to make decisions to get the route optimal, but you have to have it either side of Christmas going back and forwards.

Do you bring back Namibia into the cycle or not? There are advantages of doing so and disadvantages of doing so. The price of beer goes up because all the cheapest beer comes from Namibia and what do you do about that? It very important to a lot of people.

It is hoped that part 4 of Andrew Gurr’s thoughts on St Helena will appear on this website over the weekend – breaking news stories permitting.

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2

Stranded Jim flags ride to Cape for just… HOW MUCH?

Botanist Jim McIntosh, who was left stranded on Tristan da Cunha when he was bumped off the MV Edinburgh, has managed to find another ship that’s bound for Cape Town.

The good news, as revealed on his Tristan Travels journal, is that the captain can divert 500 miles to pick him up, to avoid a six-week wait for the Edinburgh to return.

The less-good news is that his fare would be a mere £30,000.

Hmm… tough choice.

Jim is left hitch-hiking in mid-ocean as ship sails without him
Accident lands Stephanie a month on Tristan da Cunha
St Helena cruise passengers stranded in the cold

Tristan Travels – Jim McIntosh’s blog

Jim is left hitch-hiking in mid-ocean as ship sails without him

Botanist Jim McIntosh had been looking forward to a week’s holiday in Cape Town after a seven-month stint working on Tristan da Cunha. Instead, he watched the MV Edinburgh sail away without him.

Jim was dropped from the passenger list to make way for a medical patient, with his belongings already packed.

Now he’s been left trying to hitch a lift on any ships that might be passing nearby. In the meantime, he’s got a place booked on the next scheduled sailing from the island – six weeks after he should have left for home in the UK.

He writes about his frustration on his internet journal: “Andy, the Tristan Radio Operator, and Kobus, the Chief Executive, are contacting passing ships to ask if they could divert to Tristan and give me a lift, including one to the British Antarctic Survey, whose two ships are currently in transit between the Falkland Islands and the UK.

Meantime I’m packed up and ready to go – and I’ve got to stay ready as there might not be much notice of a ship arriving.

Jim has been on the island since 3 October 2011. His blog is full of detail on Tristan life.

It also tells how he had a lucky discovery when he had a nagging toothache in Cape Town and went to a dentist, just as he was about to embark for the island in Cape Town: “Ok, it’s bad but it could be worse. I’ve just had emergency root canal treatment.”

As he says, it would have been a lot worse if he’d had the toothache a week later.

Accident lands Stephanie a month on Tristan da Cunha
St Helena cruise passengers stranded in the cold

Tristan Travels – Jim McIntosh’s blog

Accident lands Stephanie a month on Tristan da Cunha

An accident in the harbour at Tristan da Cunha forced a cruise ship zodiac driver to be left behind on the island for a month.

She’s now fully recovered and has been taken off by the container ship Cap Jackson.

The accident happened while she was transporting passengers ashore from the National Geographic cruise ship NG Explorer.

Tina Glass writes about the episode on the Tristan website. She says: “Stephanie had first been looked after in hospital by the medical team, and later moved to stay with an island family. She was soon well enough to enjoy island life, having been on the island for a month, although she just missed the annual Ratting day, by a few days.

“The community wishes her a full recovery and a safe journey home, to her family and friends.”

See Tina’s full report and pictures here, with more on the Tristan Cruise News page (note: Stephanie’s surname is not given).

Cruise passengers stranded in the cold
HMS Montrose visits Tristan da Cunha… almost