St Helena Online


More action planned on illegal fishing – minister

The UK government is planning to step up efforts to investigate illegal fishing around St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, it has been revealed.

The House of Lords heard that short term patrols and satellite monitoring are already used to track fishing vessels around the islands.

But it appears the islands do not yet benefit from oversight by the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre – set up in 2011 to detect dangers such as sea-borne terrorist threats.

The centre does protect waters around two other overseas territories chosen as Marine Protected Zone – and a third such zone is planned for Ascension, suggesting it may get similar protection.

Lord West of Spithead
Lord West of Spithead

The information was disclosed by foreign minister Baroness Anelay in response to a question by Lord West of Spithead on 3 February 2016.

He asked whether the new agency “is providing comprehensive surface coverage of the exclusive economic zones of dependent territories to ensure wildlife and resource protection; and how those zones are policed, in particular around Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island and St Helena.”

Baroness Anelay replied that the centre was helping to investigate illegal and unregulated fishing around the British Indian Ocean Territory – meaning the Chagos Islands – and Pitcairn, in the Pacific Ocean.

She said: “Overseas territories are policed in a variety of ways as marine management is a devolved responsibility.

“In St Helena, Ascension and Tristan de Cunha, a variety of surveillance and enforcement measures are deployed, including satellite monitoring, vessel tracking, short term patrols and observer coverage of fishing vessels.

“Potential enhancements to surveillance and enforcement requirements for the UK’s 14 overseas territories are being considered as part of the government’s commitment to create a Blue Belt around these territories.”

The planned Blue Belt of protected waters around all UK overseas territories was announced with great fanfare at a reception at the House of Commons in September 2015.

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith declared it “the biggest conservation commitment by any government ever.”


It includes a plan to create a vast protected zone around Ascension, with only limited sustainable fishing allowed – similar to zones already established or announced round the Chagos and Pitcairn islands.

“Blue belt” marine conservation zones, with lesser protection, are promised for all other territories, including St Helena.

People at the launch event heard how satellite and radar data are being used to detect fishing vessels by tracking the pattern of their movements.

The technique is described in a news report on the website of the Blue and Green Tomorrow campaign group.

It says: “Analysts can track declared fishing vessels and monitor the behaviour of undeclared ones.

“Container ships and cruise liners tend to go in straight lines. Fishing vessels tend to hover where there are fish. If a ship exhibits suspicious behaviour the relevant authority can be notified.”

The site says: “Industrial fishing ships can stay at sea for months refuelling and offloading stock mid-ocean. A quarter of all fishing is illegal. But the world’s oceans are a notoriously difficult place to monitor and protect.”

Lord West is a former Royal Navy officer who rose to become First Sea Lord and later Chief of Defence Intelligence.

He is also chairman of Spearfish, a company the helps clients “manage physical security risks – both on land and at sea.”

His listed interests include defence and the environment, and overseas territories in the South Atlantic.

Read more:
Biggest ever conservation commitment: UK overseas territories’ Blue Belt

(Original image of Lord West from Wikimedia Commons)

Fishing directors ‘declined council talks’ as vessel lay idle

MFV Extractor, by Bruce Salt. Click to see full gallery
MFV Extractor, by Bruce Salt. Click to see full gallery

A lack of public information about the future of St Helena’s first offshore fishing vessel has been called “extremely disturbing” by a councillor – after months without a single fish being caught.

Public funds helped to pay for the MFV Extractor, which began landing large catches from the sea mounts around the island soon after arriving in James Bay in April 2014. But fishing  ceased in late 2014, with no formal explanation.

The Hon Corinda Essex raised a question about the future use of the Extractor at the March 2015 meeting of Legislative Council. But she was told it was a matter for the private company set up to run it.

Extractor's crew got a hero's welcome. Picture: Bruce Salt
Extractor’s crew got a hero’s welcome (Bruce Salt)

She said the directors at Saint Marine Resources Limited (SMRL) had declined to meet councillors to say what was happening.

The company issued a statement in February 2015 saying they hoped to use the vessel for maritime training and off-shore fishing within three months, eventually building up crews who could operate the vessel in rotation.

It said: “It was hoped that the MFV Extractor would return to operation in January 2015.

“Sadly, following the tragic death of skipper Trevor Thomas and subsequent notification from other crew members that they no longer wish to continue their involvement in this venture, the company is now in the process of exploring alternative options.

“The Directors of SMRL recognise the significant contributions to the fishing industry in general made by skipper Trevor Thomas along with other crew members.”

Early catches were healthy. Picture by Bruce Salt
Early catches were healthy. Picture by Bruce Salt

Trevor’s daughter, Tammy Williams, has written a letter to island newspapers after Dr Niall O’Keefe, head of Enterprise St Helena, made no mention of their achievements in a speech on island successes.

“I suppose the Extractor saga does leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth,” she says. “I thought at the very least the fish landed by the Extractor, amounting to some 60-plus tonnes of prime tuna exported last year, was worth mentioning.”

SMRL director Rob Midwinter said he was unable to comment on concerns raised at LegCo because he had been travelling back to the island on the RMS St Helena at the time.

Dr Essex had asked the chairman of the economic development committee, the Hon Lawson Henry, when the vessel would be operational again.

He explained it was a matter for the private company, but she said that “elected members requested the board of SMRL to meet with them but the invitation was declined.”

Attorney general Nicola Moore said: “Regrettably, it’s a matter for private company law. There is no requirement to provide information to members of the public.”

Dr Essex returned to the issue of government funding for the vessel in her adjournment debate speech.

“It is extremely disturbing that we as elected members are unable to obtain basic information regarding progress relating to that investment,” she said.

“Members who sit on Enterprise St Helena and Fisheries Corporation boards have been provided with some confidential information but this is not accessible to all members.

“We all have a responsibility to monitor the outcomes of public expenditure.”

She suggested there might be “a need to strengthen the company’s public accountability… perhaps there should be a change in the structure of SMRL’s board.”

Tammy Williams’s letter notes that the crew of the Extractor were presented with a St Helenian flag when the vessel arrived in James Bay on 19 April 2014, after overseeing the refit in South Africa.

“After some considerable time and sacrifice away from home and family for three months, the Extractor crew sailed into James Bay with all the hopes and dreams of building a fishing industry.

“The crew of the Extractor were a perfect example of local people making it work and helping to turn the island into a viable and prosperous place to live.”

She notes that Extractor left her moorings “after six months of lying idle” on Friday 27 March – the day Dr Essex was pressing for information in the council chamber.

Terry Richards, director of SMRL, has subsequently given this statement: “The company is currently pursuing a publically advertised commercial exercise, and is unable to comment further at this time, however the company has maintained that it will endeavour to keep the public informed via press releases as and when it is in a position to do so.”

Trevor O Thomas: a tribute from a friend
Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation
St Helena’s very own offshore fishing vessel – in pictures

Net saving? Ascension no-fishing zone could cost £3m – or not

Creating one of the world’s biggest marine protection zones around Ascension Island could cost the UK about £3 million a year – at a Conservative estimate.

The conservationist estimate, on the other hand, is only £400,000 a year.

12 The Great WetropolisClick the pic to see a gallery of Ascension marine life

Celebrities and academics have joined with conservation groups in calling on the British government to create three massive maritime “parks” in the Atlantic and South Pacific, with a complete ban on commercial fishing.

The Tory Foreign Minister Hugo Swire has said the likely cost of full enforcement could be judged from the £2.75m spent each year patrolling a reserve in the Indian Ocean.

Policing the seas was even more expensive around South Georgia, “where a patrol vessel alone costs approximately £3.2m per year,” he said in a Commons Written Answer on 9 February 2015.

But the environment writer Charles Clover has put the cost at a mere £400,000 a year, according to The Guardian website.

Thanks to satellite technology, it would not be necessary to have a patrol boat out searching vast areas of ocean for pirate fishing vessels, he told the site.

The Guardian also reported that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had begun discussions with people on Ascension about creating a reserve.

It understood that “indigenous” fishing would be allowed up to 18 miles offshore. That may not reassure keen sport fishermen on Ascension, which officially has no permanent or “indigenous” population.

The Blue Marine Foundation has spear-headed a campaign to have three marine reserves created around Ascension, the Southern Atlantic territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, and the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific.

It says they would protect 1.75 million square kilometres of ocean – expanding the total area of ocean reserves by 50 per cent.

The foundation describes Ascension’s warm waters as “a green turtle Mecca and one of the last remaining hotspots for Atlantic megafauna such as tuna, marlin and shark.”

A campaign letter has been signed by 42 conservation bodies, including Birdlife International, the RSPB, Greenpeace UK, the Zoological Society of London, and the less-well-known Fin Fighters UK and Fish Fight.

The actresses Greta Scacchi, Dame Helena Bonham Cater, Julie Christie and Zoe Wanamaker have added their names to those of leading scientists and environmental figures in the letter to the UK government.

The foundation said in a statement: “More than 94 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity is found in its overseas territories.

“Rare whales, turtles, fish, penguins, corals and albatrosses are among the wildlife that would benefit if the reserves were to be set up.”

Ascension’s underwater wonders revealed
UK ‘doesn’t even know’ about eco threats, say MPs
St Helena tops the league table for unique species
Blue Marine Foundation – press release
Conservationists call for UK to create world’s largest marine reserve – The Guardian
Cost of patrolling Ascension reserve – Commons Written Answer

St Helena’s very own offshore fishing vessel – in pictures

MFV Extractor arrives in James Bay. Click to pic to see a gallery of images by Bruce Salt
MFV Extractor arrives in James Bay. Click to pic to see a gallery of images by Bruce Salt

A large crowd of wellwishers gathered at the wharf in Jamestown to greet the arrival of the St Helena’s first island-owned offshore fishing vessel on 19 April 2014. A new company, Saint Marine Resources, was set up in January 2014 to buy and refit the trawler in Hout Bay, South Africa. The long-sought vessel will enable the island to exploit the rich fishing areas around its sea mounts.

Click here to see a gallery of images by Bruce Salt. 

A press release said:

MFV Extractor Arrived Safely in James Bay at 17:30hrs on Saturday 19 April.

Approximately 200 people turned up at the wharf to welcome the crew back, and they were given a brief demonstration of the vessel’s handling ability whilst awaiting clearance by Customs and Immigration officials.

Once ashore, the lead skipper, Trevor (Otto) Thomas, and crew members Waylon Thomas, Peter Benjamin, Errol Thomas, and Terry Richards, were presented with a St Helena “blue ensign” for the MFV Extractor by Councillor Lawson Henry, chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

During a small welcoming reception for the crew held at the St Helena Yacht Club shortly afterwards, Councillor Henry spoke about the significance of the Extractor’s arrival in St Helena, noting that when we talk about achieving economic growth for the island it is steps such as this that island needs to be taking.

SEE ALSO: MFV Extractor arrives in James Bay – pictures by Bruce Salt

Britain promises to clear oil from torpedoed Darkdale

A “catastrophic” oil leak from the wreck of the torpedoed RFA Darkdale has been declared inevitable within 25 years if no action is taken.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has now promised urgent steps to remove  the oil, to protect human health and St Helena’s precious environment.

In the meantime, its investigation team says an exclusion zone should be set up around the vessel.

The ship has been causing low-level poisoning of marine life since it was blown up in James Bay by a German submarine on 22 October 1941, killing 41 men on board.

A severe storm in 2010 apparently caused wreckage to shift and release more oil than usual, prompting pressure on the Ministry of Defence from the governor at the time, Andrew Gurr.

Investigations in May 2012 found that 10 per cent of fish and shellfish around the wreck had contamination above accepted safe levels. They “may be a hazard to human health if consumed”.

Sediment on the sea bed was found to be badly polluted.

A report from the MoD’s investigators has recommended that a 200-metre exclusion zone be set up around the ship to avoid the danger of rupturing oil tanks.

It says the anchors of the RMS St Helena have snagged on the wreck on occasion, and there has been damage from ships’ anchor chains.

The bow section of the Darkdale is estimated to contain between 2,326 and 4,952 cubic metres of oil – enough to pose an “intolerable” threat to the island’s marine environment.

That is up to 500 times the amount thought to have been released in 2010 – when a large slick formed across the bay, prompting the closure of the inshore fishery.

The hulk was examined by a remote-controlled robot device, brought to the island by MoD contractor Salvage and Marine Operations. They operated from island boats, including a Solomon’s barge.

The survey found the wreck lying in two parts, with the stern section lying on its side with substantial torpedo damage. The bow was found to be lying upside-down and in very good condition, given the time under water.

Generally low levels of contamination were found in water samples, but pollution of sediment exceeded Environmental Quality Standards (EQS). Most fish examined had low-level contamination, but about 10 per cent exceeded the safe standard.

Environmentalists who joined the investigation team found a large spill would cause a short-term lethal risk to inshore fish species – some of which are unique to St Helena waters, and already vulnerable.

Oil remaining in the environment would hinder recovery and could cause long-term “sub-lethal” effects.

The investigators have recommended:

  • Removal of the oil
  • A ban on anchoring with 200 metres
  • A ban on fishing over the immediate site
  • Analysis of fish from a wider area
  • Long-term environmental monitoring

The MoD has secured funding for the oil removal work, which has been made more pressing because of the expected growth of a tourism industry on the island.

The RFA Darkdale was stationed in James Bay as a fuel tanker.

The ship’s tanks had been replenished only days before it was hit by three torpedoes from the U-68 submarine – in the first U-boat attack in the Southern Hemisphere.

The nine survivors included two seamen who were on deck and were blown into the sea, and the ship’s master, who was about to return to the vessel. Others escaped the blast because they were in the hospital in Jamestown.

The names of the dead are recorded on a monument on the seafront.

A memorial service was conducted by the survey team at the start of its visit, with a union flag being laid on the wreck.

Read more:

Full investigation report

RFA Darkdale: wreck imposes ‘intolerable’ threat to island

A long list of risks posed by the wreck of the torpedoed RFA Darkdale sets out grim prospects for St Helena if action is not taken.

Two are rated “intolerable” and highly likely to arise. They are:

  • “Catastrophic structural failure of the wreck leading to complete discharge of oil to the environment.” This is rated as probable, with critical impact.
  • “Structural failure of a single tank with discharge of contents to the environment.” This could be a frequent event, with major impact.

The Ministry of Defence survey report says: “Structural failure is inevitable – time scale is judged to be within the next 25 years.”

But it says not all tanks are in the same condition and it is more likely they will fail one at a time.

This could actually cause more harm to the environment, because repeated leaks would make it harder for habitats to recover.

The report says there are no simple measures to prevent major leaks.

Visiting vessels, including the RMS St Helena, pose another, undesirable risk, it adds, especially with more cruise ships expected once tourism facilities improve with the opening of the island’s airport.

“Contact of anchor chains with the wreck are highly likely to lead to tank rupture. The increasing number of visiting ships raises the risk.”

Damage to the wreck from severe weather conditions is also rated as probable and intolerable – and increasingly more likely as the structure weakens with age.

“The exposed location of the wreck means that it cannot be protected in any way from the weather,” says the report.

A fourth intolerable risk would bring “disastrous” consequences for the whole island: that supplies of fuel could be cut off if oil in Rupert’s Bay were to prevent a tanker delivery.

But that danger is considered very remote, but the report says: “Given the island’s remote location and dependence on fuel delivered by ship, it would be a very serious impact.

“The building of the airport will increase the demand for fuel on the island, making refuelling more frequent.”

Other threats would bring serious consequences, but are thought unlikely to materialise, or the consequences are not considered severe.

They include the dangers of recreational divers accidentally releasing oil, and harm to the island’s tourism and fishing industries.

The report says the effects of local people eating contaminated fish could be critical – but not likely to happen.

“Samples do indicate fish on the wreck site may be contaminated,” it says, but adds: “Only small quantities of fish are taken from the wreck by a limited number of people.”

And the risk of people in Jamestown being harmed by explosions from the wreck is so low, it is rated as “incredible”.

The report refers to fears that unexploded shells could blow up, especially if disturbed by divers.

But it says: “The vessel is a considerable distance from the town and explosives are all at least 30 metres underwater. (The) blast would not propagate far enough to constitute a risk.”

Governor’s Cape seduction: tax breaks to lure investors

The lure of ten-year tax breaks is set to make St Helena a hot topic with investors in Cape Town, says a South African financial website.

The MoneyWeb report – ahead of a visit by Governor Mark Capes – says the opening of St Helena’s airport in 2016 “will open the island up for business.”

And it lists an array of incentives to pull in investors.

They include “early tax breaks, zero customs duty, corporate tax and capital gains tax for seven years on investments over £1million and below £5million.”

For even bigger investments, it goes on, the tax sweeteners would continue for ten years.

“Investments of more than £1million will attract a 50% discount on freight rates, and those bigger than £5million also qualify for a 50% discount on passenger rates,” says MoneyWeb.

It adds that St Helena has no off-putting sales or property taxes.

An event for would-be investors has been organised by Wesgro, the marketing agency for the Western Cape, to coincide with the governor’s stop-over en route to Tristan da Cunha.

The island party includes Julian Morris, who is leaving his job as the island’s head of economic development.

“The St Helena government is planning £24 million of infrastructure upgrades in the next few years in anticipation of air access,” says MoneyWeb.

“Opportunities are mainly focussed on tourism, fishing and services.

“Extensive research has shown opportunities in especially heritage and culture tours. The island’s link to Napoleon is a huge point of interest. Bird watching, gaming, fishing and diving, and to a lesser extent astronomy are other niche tourism markets targeted.

“On the fishing side, St. Helena has a 200-mile exclusive zone where it controls marine resources and tuna stocks are largely untouched.

“Fresh and frozen tuna provide opportunities as well as sports fishing, says Morris.”

The report does not mention efforts to bring a vessel to the island to enable local fishermen to exploit rich fishing around the island’s sea mounts.

But it does say that the island team will be “in serious talks with prospective hotel investors and parties interested in establishing a fish processing plant”.

The island team, including Enterprise St Helena director Rob Midwinter and councillor Lawson Henry, departed from Jamestown yesterday (7 November 2013).

Lawson will travel on to London with Dax Richards, the island’s Assistant Financial Secretary, to attend the annual Joint Ministerial Conference for overseas territories.

Read the MoneyWeb report:

Expert quit island three days after drink-drive ban

Fisheries adviser Mark Brumbill was convicted of drink-driving only three days before leaving St Helena without serving out his contract, it has been confirmed.

St Helena Government reported that “serious threats” had been made against his family when it announced his departure – but made no mention of the court case.

There has since been some anger among island fishermen about the manner of the announcement, which was issued a day after the family sailed for Cape Town on Sunday, 7 July 2013.

No indication has been given of the nature of the alleged threats, or whether they related to current disagreements over fishing, the drinking case, or some other matter.

Trevor Thomas, of the St Helena Fishermen’s Association, expressed his shock at the unexpected departure.

He said: “I personally am very sorry to see Mark’s appointment end in the manner it did.

“I know that he was not ill treated by the fishermen, so where does the allegation of threats emerge from?

“I am intending to write a strong letter to the Governor, and there will be further press statements once I confirm a number of other facts.”

An email from another fisherman said the handling of the announcement could damage St Helena’s reputation.

The following notice has been issued to island media:

St Helena Magistrates’ Court
4 July 2013

MARK BRUMBILL (43) of the Briars, pleaded guilty to driving whilst 50% over the prescribed alcohol limit. Mr Brumbill was fined £470.00 with £15.00 costs and disqualified from driving for the period of 12 months.

SEE ALSO: ‘Threats’ blamed as family quits island (amended text)

‘Threats’ blamed as family quits island (amended text)

(This story has been amended in the light of emerging information that suggests that the unspecified threats against Mark Brumbill may well not relate to his work with the fishing industry)

The expert brought in to build up St Helena’s fishery has left the island abruptly after allegedly receiving “serious personal threats”, including to his family.

Mark Brumbill’s departure was made public the day after he and his family sailed on the RMS St Helena on Sunday 7 July, bound for Cape Town.

St Helena Online is awaiting confirmation of another matter that is thought to put a different complexion on the issue.

The threats were referred to in a brief statement from the island’s head of economic development, Julian Morris.

He made no direct reference to recent anger over a South African company, Global Fish, being given a temporary licence to fish St Helena waters.

Nor has there been any suggestion that the alleged threats even relate to Mr Brumbill’s work on behalf of the fishing industry.

The Enterprise St Helena chief said: “Mark had completed his initial appraisal and report on the St Helena Fishery, which sets out the many opportunities available to the island.

“I regret Mark’s departure, which is a loss to the island, although I fully understand his decision to leave.

“After considering a number of factors, including unfair and unwarranted comments from a few individuals, including some very serious personal threats to him and his family, Mark concluded that it would be extremely difficult for him to remain here to help Saints develop a prosperous and sustainable fishing industry.

“I am grateful to Mark and his family, who made a significant commitment by leaving their home in Brazil to come here and share Mark’s skills and experience with those who want to see growth in St Helena’s fishing sector.

“Mark identified great potential for St Helena’s fishery, provided that it can adapt to change, involving various fishing techniques and different approaches to business organisation – all matters on which he was well qualified to advise.

“Looking ahead, we will build on his work by supporting a number of local fishing initiatives.”

Julian Morris’s comments are understood to have caused anger in some circles, with conflicting accounts of events circulating on the island.