St Helena Online


Colin and David fly the flags in Afghanistan

colin benjamin and david leo 960Ascension and St Helena may be small islands, but their people play a part on the world stage – and here’s a picture that proves it.

It shows Colin Benjamin and David Leo posing with the flags of their home islands at Camp Bastion, the vast military base in Afghanistan.

It took a while for David to obtain permission from the military authorities for St Helena Online to use the image of the pair posing with the flags at Christmas.

David Leo has served round the world
David Leo has served round the world

A busy operational period got in the way, but David was keen for readers to know that the islands are represented among the men and women serving in Afghanistan.

His Facebook page declares him to be an old boy of the Two Boats School of Excellence on Ascension.

He’s one of three brothers who have served in the forces, all a cause of pride to parents Cyril and Delphia.

The pair met up with all three on a trip to Germany in 2012. Cyril, a well-known councillor on Ascension, told St Helena Online: “We were fortunate to have had all three boys there at the same time.

“Shaun took voluntary redundancy Dec ’12 after serving 15 years. He served twice in Afghanistan. Ben has twice served in Afghanistan. David served twice in Iraq; the first was in the 2003 war and again in 2005.”

Colin, who grew up at St Paul’s, studied at Prince Andrew School and then worked at Radio St Helena before leaving to join the RAF.

His Facebook page shows pictures of his life in Afghanistan – including the Saint flag draped over he sleeping area. In messages, he tells how much he’s been looking forward to returning home to his wife and young son in Scotland in mid-January 2014.

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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.”

RFA Darkdale: delicate task of preventing another Oliva disaster

Clearing oil from the wreck of the RFA Darkdale will be challenging and costly – but clearing up an environmental disaster would be worse.

The Ministry of Defence is keen to avoid coping with an oil slick in mid-ocean, like the one caused near Tristan da Cunha by the loss of the MS Oliva in 2011.

The MoD’s report on the Darkdale says: “There are no publicly available figures for the total cost of the clean-up for [the Oliva] incident. However given the response that was mobilised, the figure will be several million pounds.”

The same could be true of a major leak from the Darkdale. “If no positive action is taken to remove the oil, the MoD must be prepared to mobilise a large scale response when the wreck releases the oil, and bear all the costs of this action.”

But it knows it can be done – because it has already tackled the same challenge with the wreck of the HMS Royal Oak, which was sunk by a U-boat in Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, in 1939, with the loss of 914 lives.

Like the Darkdale, it began leaking oil at a growing rate as its hull corroded. Both ships lie in similar depths.

A technique known as hot-tapping was used to remove 1,500 cubic metres of oil from the Royal Oak.

This would involve sawing a hole into the Darkdale’s remaining tanks so the oil could be drawn off carefully.

“The structure of the Darkdale is a simple single-hulled tanker, making hot-tapping considerably easier than on a warship,” says the MoD’s December 2013 report.

“Much of the difficulty and time spent removing oil from the Royal Oak was due to the large number of small compartments and defensive design features such as the torpedo bulge.

“The Darkdale does not have any of these features.”

Disposing of the oil waste will need careful thought, says the report.

And there remains a danger from wartime shells, it says. “A detailed assessment of the unexploded ordinance risk would have to be undertaken and it is likely that the shells lying around the wreck would have to be removed and disposed of.”

St Helena’s remoteness will add greatly to the costs.

In other respects, the emptying of oil from the Royal Oak may have been far more delicate, judging from a report on the website of the contractor, Briggs.

“Spaces adjacent to bunker tanks were containing sensitive munitions and human remains,” it says.

The ship’s status as a war grave had to be respected throughout the operation.

RFA Darkdale: Mystery of the torpedo that failed to explode

The German submarine U-68 fired off four torpedoes at the RFA Darkdale, then sped quickly away to escape the attention of the gun crews positioned above Jamestown.

The logbook recorded that all four struck home. But investigators from the Ministry of Defence say their examination of the wreck casts a new light on the historical accounts of the wrecking.

And that leaves an intriguing question for St Helena.

Kaptain Karl-Freidrich Merten’s account has been translated into English as follows:

00h15 ready for action – approach on surface

01h43 4 single shots – 4 hits

Enormous thin flame. Ship is illuminated as by day, the whole coast, harbour, barracks and batteries are lighted up in red glow.

But the December 2013 report into the state of the wreck, 73 years on, says the commander may have miscounted the number of torpedoes that struck home.

“There remains the likelihood that one may have missed its target or not exploded on impact,” it says. “This was a known problem with some types of German torpedo.

“This is supported by the evidence in the Harbour Master’s report of the Darkdale loss. He noted only three loud explosions.”

And when the investigators examined the wreck, they found evidence of only three hits, to the stern and midships.

“The only report that notes the explosion of all four torpedoes is the Torpedo Officer’s log. It would be in his interest to declare all four torpedoes as confirmed explosions but the damage to the ship does not support this statement.

“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.

“The fate of the fourth torpedo remains unknown.”


“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.”

Simon, I know you didn’t write this but these were probably contact torpedoes, not
magnetic.  So it it missed it would have hit the coast and there would likely have
been a fourth, delayed explosion.

Side scan sonar picks up objects that are visually sticking up above the seabed.
James Bay is mostly deep sand.  The likelihood of a very heavy, long, tubular
object still sitting on top of the sand after nearly 70 years approaches zero.

They looked like these:

War veteran Cyril joins the march of Remembrance

The Bishop leads the Remembrance Sunday prayers at Jamestown
The Bishop leads the Remembrance Sunday prayers at Jamestown

In Jamestown and on Horseguards Parade, the people of St Helena have paid their respects, once again, to the millions who served and fell in wartime.

In London, Cyril Brooks marched proudly alongside his fellow islanders on 10 November 2013 – Remembrance Sunday.

remembrance cyril brooks 250
Cyril Brooks served in World War Two

He left his island home at the age of 17 in 1944 to serve the last months of the Second World War in the Royal Navy, stationed at Simons Town in South Africa.

When hostilities ceased he remained in uniform. In 1947 he served on the cruiser HMS Nigeria as it escorted the Royal Family on an official tour.

The following year he left the Navy and then moved to the UK, where he became a founder member of the St Helena Association, serving on its committee for 50 years.

The traditional Remembrance Sunday Service at at the Cenotaph on Jamestown’s seafront was smaller, but no less dignified.

A large congregation gathered to pay their respects to those who had lost their lives fighting for their country.

The Governor's Deputy lays St Helena's official wreath
The Governor’s Deputy lays St Helena’s official wreath

Led by the Right Reverend Lord Bishop of St Helena, Dr Richard Fenwick, the commemoration began with the customary march of the island’s uniformed contingents from the Canister to the Cenotaph.

In the absence of Governor Mark Capes – who had sailed for Cape Town and Tristan da Cunha – the territory’s wreath was laid by his deputy, Owen O’Sullivan.

Official wreaths were then laid for the French Republic, the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force, the Merchant Navy, the St Helena Police Force and the St Helena Fire and Rescue Service. Members of the public were then able to lay their own tributes.

The Service concluded with the traditional March Past outside the Supreme Court.

  • Four plants from St Helena were woven into the wreath laid at the Cenotaph in London by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague: old-father-live-forever, boxwood, scrubwood and the St Helena ebony. The wreath is made at Kew Gardens each year with plants from the UK overseas territories. An identical wreath is laid in Kew’s own ceremony. Read more here.

Click on any thumbnail to see full-sized images of Remembrance Sunday 2013, courtesy of St Helena Government:

Ascension gets busy as President Obama tours Africa

President Obama's luggage carriers: aircraft on the tarmac at Ascension. US Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber
President Obama’s luggage carriers: aircraft at Ascension. US Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber

It was as if Wideawake Airfield had suddenly decided to live up to its name.

In a normal week, Ascension Island sees just three flights touch down; but in June and July 2013, no fewer than 103 aircraft passed through in the space of 24 days, according to the Air Mobility Command website.

And all because the President of the United States was spending just six days touring Africa, promoting democracy and trade.

Ascension was used as a staging post for moving American personnel and equipment to and from Africa to support the President’s tour.

Loading cargo onto a C-17 at Ascension. US Air Force picture by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber
Loading cargo onto a C-17 at Ascension. US Air Force picture by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber

“The normally tranquil island transformed into a major military aircraft hub,” writes Captain David Bredesen on the website.

He salutes the island’s civilian population – mostly St Helenians – who turned on traditional Saint hospitality. In return, children from Two Boats School and the scout troop enjoyed a tour of the giant C-17 and KC-10 aircraft, and off-duty airmen helped Ascension Island Conservation maintain hiking trails on Green Mountain.

The operation began on 14 June 2013 with the arrival of more than 170 mobility airmen aboard four C-17 Globemasters.

Another 92 aircraft followed in the second wave of an “aggressive 24/7 operation”. The airfield had not been as busy as this since it became a jumping off point for the Falklands War, 31 years earlier.

And more loading...
And more loading…

The operation was supported by a small team from the 45th Operations Group, and a detachment from the Royal Air Force, as well as contractors.

Another 33 airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing at Travis, in California, gave a boost to Ascension’s existing airfield infrastructure, providing command and control, communications and aerial port services for the massive operation.

In all, 4.4 million pounds of cargo, 1,600 passengers and 103 aircraft transiting the island during the mission. On average, one military aircraft arrived or departed Ascension’s airfield every 3.5 hours for 24 straight days.

Major Michael Campbell, Detachment 2 commander on the island, said: “It took the combined efforts of every agency on Ascension, as well as the deployed airmen, to support the heightened operations tempo and make this mission a success.”

SEE ALSO: Ascension ‘off-limits’ as US prepares for Iran nuclear crisis

LINK: Airmen transform sleepy Atlantic outpost into critical air transport hub for Presidential visit

Close-up of hands holding bundles of blue Iranian Rial notes

Queen bans Saints from building nuclear weapons

Close-up of hands holding bundles of blue Iranian Rial notes
Don’t try laundering Iranian money through the Bank of St Helena. Picture: Celie/Flickr

The Queen has signed a new law preventing people in St Helena trading sensitive goods with Iran.

Any Saints who supply materials for making nuclear weapons, say – or lend their expertise – face up to seven years in prison.

The Iran (Restrictive Measures) (Overseas Territories) Order 2012 was passed by “The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council” at the Court at Windsor Castle on 10 July 2012.

The document says: “Her Majesty, in exercise of the powers conferred on her by Section 1 of the United Nations Act 1946 section 112 of the Saint Helena Act 1833, and the British Settlements Act 1887 and 1945,  is pleased, by and with the advice of Her Privy Council, to order as follows…”

The new law, called a Statutory Instrument, makes it illegal to supply various services or goods, including gold and diamonds, unless granted a licence by the governor.

It’s also now illegal for anyone in St Helena to launder newly-printed Iranian banknotes.

Although the law applies to all the UK’s overseas territories, it makes specific reference to Ascension, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Read it here… just to be on the safe side.

Iran sanctions explained – BBC News