St Helena Online

Sister islands

Historian wants to bring Great War wreck back home

The Viola / Dias, photographed in the 1990s by  Lieutenant Philip Hall of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The Viola / Dias, photographed in the 1990s by Lieutenant Philip Hall of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

A rusting trawler in South Georgia is thought to be the last surviving boat of its kind to have served in the First World War – and now a historian wants to return it toEngland.

The Hull Daily Mail says the Viola was converted to carry out anti-submarine patrols, and helped sink two German submarines off the British coast.

After the war, it was used for whaling off the coast of Africa, before being sold to an Argentinian firm that used it for sealing around South Georgia – renamed Dias.

It was laid up on the shore after the whaling station at Grytviken closed in the 1960s and was still there when scrap metal merchants landed on South Georgia, triggering the Falklands War. 

The vessel sank on its mooring in 1974, according to the Wikipedia website.

In 2004, the site says, the Dias and the neighbouring Albatros were refloated, cleared of all remaining oil, and beached.

An organisation, the “Friends of Viola/Dias“, has been set up to preserve the ship – either on South Georgia or in its home port of Hull.

A website dedicated to the ship says: “Viola’s story is unique: a remarkable story of fisheries, whaling, sealing, war and exploration during which she both weathered and witnessed many aspects of mankind’s 20th Century struggles on the sea.

“Viola was one of 50-or-so trawlers built for the Hellyer Boxing Fleet in 1906. By 1918 no less than twenty two of her sister vessels had been lost, to either the elements or enemy action in the Great War.

“Today, apart from this little ship, all physical trace of the once proud Hellyer fleet has disappeared.

“Viola/Dias is now the oldest surviving former steam trawler in the world with her steam engines still intact.”

In 2006 the Viola’s original bell was discovered on a farm in Norway and purchased by Hull Maritime Museum. In 2008 the bell was returned to the ship

The Hull Daily Mail quotes Dr Robb Robinson, who works at the Maritime Historical Studies Centre in Hull, saying it would cost about £500,000 to take the boat back to the UK on a barge, and a further £1m to restore it.

He said the centenary of the First World War probably provided the best chance to inspire a campaign to transport the ship home. “Its story is a voyage through the 20th Century,” he said. “For me, it would be a dream to see it come back after all this time.”

Great War boat could finally be coming home – Hull Daily Mail
Viola (trawler) – Wikipedia
Viola/Dias website

First ever Ascension Island flag to fly

His Excellency Mark Capes, Governor of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, has warmly welcomed Royal approval of the design of the first ever flag of Ascension Island, saying:

“I am delighted to announce that Her Majesty The Queen has graciously approved the design of the first ever flag for Ascension Island, part of the British Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.  Ascension Island now has its own flag, which it will fly with pride.

“The residents on Ascension Island will raise their flag for the first time during a ceremony on Saturday 11 May 2013, when the Island will celebrate Ascension Day, after which the Island was named in 1503.”  

Ascension Island Flag
Ascension’s Coat of Arms

The flag, as for other Overseas Territories, is the Blue Ensign adorned with the Coat of Arms for Ascension Island (see image to right).  Ascension’s Coat of Arms, which was approved by Her Majesty in May 2012, shows important symbols from the Territory, including a shield emblazoned with the Green Mountain that dominates the skyline, together with three Wideawake Birds, secured by two Green Turtles.

Both the design of the Coat of Arms and the flag emerged from an extensive public consultation exercise on Ascension.

Ascension Island has previously flown the Union Flag on Island and on state occasions.

See Also:
Turtles rampant: Ascension’s new coat of arms

Can top financier make money for a rock in the ocean?

Pitcairn flag - the Union Flag in top corner, blue background, and a crest featuring an anchorOne of the world’s richest men is being asked to come to the aid of one of its poorest – and smallest – island communities.

The mayor of Pitcairn has warned that the island is in danger of becoming unsustainable if its population falls any further. It is home to fewer than 60 people, mostly descended from the famous Bounty mutineers.

But it may be difficult for Warren Buffett to see how he can offer financial advice to the Pacific islanders, given that his expertise is in investment and the tiny British territory doesn’t have a stock market.

Mr Buffett has been invited to attend a conference in August, at the suggestion of the Pitcairn Islands Study Center, part of Pacific Union College in California.

By chance, the centre is only a 16-minute drive from the Napa Valley town that shares its name with another British island – St Helena.

Island life is tough, report finds – but a Lottery win would help
Storm damages Pitcairn landing stage

Pitcairn Islands Study Center
Bounty-Pitcairn Conference 2012
Isolated Pacific island founded by mutineers seeks Warren Buffett’s help
Warren Buffett – Wikipedia

Displaced islanders written off as “a few Man Fridays”

Newly-released secret papers show how officials conspired to remove the people of the Chagos Islands, one of Britain’s overseas territories.

The UK government was negotiating a deal that would allow the United States to use the islands as a military base – but the resident Chagossians were forcibly deported. Some left the island on trips and then found they could not return.

According to The Guardian, Foreign Office officials were told to describe the islanders as “contract labourers” to make it appear they had no right to be there. “The merit of this line,” it noted, “is that it does not give away the existence of the Ilois [the indigenous islanders] but is at the same time strictly factual.”

About 1,500 islanders were deported, mainly to Mauritius and Seychelles, where some died in poverty and despair.

A fellow mandarin, Sir Dennis Greenhill, is reported to have said: “Unfortunately, along with the birds go some few Tarzans and Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius.”

LINKS: Diego Garcia archives shed light on fate of deported Chagos islanders
UK Chagos Support Association

South Georgia marine reserve: a ‘land grab’ in the ocean?

South Georgia, by Scott Henderson
Riches of the ocean have been protected around South Georgia, a British overseas territory (picture: Scott Henderson/

The creation of a vast marine reserve around South Georgia could be seen as a way of grabbing territory for the UK, a political analyst has warned.

“Given that Argentina claims sovereignty over the newly protected areas,” says Dr James Allan, “the British government’s decision is a reminder of how environmental matters are often closely intertwined with political agendas.”

A million square kilometres of ocean around the British territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were declared a marine reserve last month. Fishing will be banned in a 20,000-square-kilometre zone around the islands, which are home to seven species of globally threatened sea bird, including the wandering albatross.

South Georgia is richer in unique species than even the celebrated Galápagos islands, according to a study completed in 2011.

Dr Allan, of the consultancy firm Maplecroft, says the UK’s intentions are “ostensibly noble”, but that designating protection zones can provide a means by which “power can be extended over both space and political rivals.”

He says theorits will say the UK has “created space” in the ocean: “That is, by drawing new lines on a map the distant government has awarded itself a new territorial scale through which its power can be exercised… to subjugate the interests of other groups.”

He compares the move with the creation of a national park near Jerusalem, between two Arab neighbourhoods: “Opponents claim the designation is simply a land grab.”


New South Atlantic marine reserve will raise political tensions
UK protects ocean for fish and albatross South Georgia

UK protects ocean for fish and albatross

Seabirds featured in South Georgia stamps - by artist John Gale -have gained new protection

A million square kilometres of ocean have been given new protection around the British territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It will safeguard one of the most important fish-spawning grounds in the Southern Ocean – home to seven species of globally threatened sea bird, including the wandering albatross.

Sir David Attenborough, whose Frozen Planet BBC series was filmed partly on South Georgia, has welcomed the creation of one of the world’s largest marine reserves. He said: ‘This is extremely timely given the dramatic change that the polar regions are currently undergoing.’

South Georgia is richer in unique species than even the celebrated Galápagos islands, according to a study completed in 2011.

The Press Association news agency predicts that the UK’s announcement of a protection zone will further inflame tensions with Argentina over disputed South Atlantic territories.

Fishing will be banned in a 20,000-square-kilometre zone around the islands – one the UK’s most remote and pristine overseas territories. Commercial bottom trawling will be prohibited in the entire protection area and longline fishing – which is blamed for albatross deaths – will only be allowed at depths greater than 700 metres.

Limited fishing licences will be sold, to fund patrols to prevent illegal fishing.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said the UK and island governments had already taken steps to avoid slaughter of albatrosses by longline fishing crews. A spokesman said: ‘This latest protection marks another leap forward, but we hope that it will be followed by additional specific protection for vulnerable marine species and resources.’

It wants tighter management of fishing for highly-prized Antarctic krill within the marine protected area.

The RSPB has said that albatross colonies around South Georgia have suffered ‘some of the most rapid declines seen in any population worldwide.’

Two artists, Chris Rose and John Gale, visited South Georgia in 2010 and later raised £15,000 for the RSPB’s work through an ‘art for albatrosses’ exhibition in London.


Click here and here to see examples of work by artists Chris Rose and John Gale.
See more details from the British Antarctic Survey here.

See also: Islands are key to ice riches

HMS Montrose continues islands tour

HMS Montrose is nearing the end of a six-month deployment to  all the British overseas territories in the South Atlantic, following a season of anti-piracy action in the Indian Ocean.

Navy News has an impressive picture of the type-23 frigate approaching Gough Island, photographed from the air. See it on the Navy News website.

HMS Dauntless is due to take over the routine South Atlantic tour – though Argentina has interpreted the deployment of the Type 45 destroyer as military aggression.

HMS Montrose has already visited Ascension, St Helena, the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Its mission statement says: ‘The Atlantic Patrol Task (South) ship provides reassurance to UK overseas territories, Commonwealth countries and other friendly nations in the South Atlantic, and acts as a deterrent to potential aggressors who may wish to threaten UK nations, territory or interests.

‘The ship is responsible for maintaining British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.’

A report from the ship for Navy News says HMS Montrose is thought to be the first Royal Navy vessel to visit Gough Island in the past decade.

The island, 230 miles from Tristan da Cunha, is a World Heritage Site, breeding ground for ‘almost the entire world population of Tristan albatross and Atlantic petrel – all of which were very much in evidence when Montrose launched her Lynx helicopter to conduct an airborne reconnaissance and fisheries patrol of the island’s waters.’

Gough – named after a Naval captain who visited in 1731 – is temporary home to six members of the South African Weather Service, and two staff of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Commander Jonathan Lett of HMS Montrose tells Navy News: ‘Just as with our visits to Ascension, St Helena, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands earlier in the deployment, it has been a real privilege to visit one of the most isolated British South Atlantic Overseas Territories as part of our mission in the region.’

On South Georgia, ship’s crew went ashore at Grytviken on December 16 and dealt with recent ordnance finds, including a two-inch mortar and two rifle grenades. See a spectacular picture here.

The ship sailed for the South Sandwich Islands the following day, patrolling down the remote island chain until prevented from going further south by ice.

HMS Montrose has a complement of 185 officers and ratings and is equipped with the latest weapons, sensors and communications systems, including the vertical-launch Sea Wolf missile system for close air defence, a 4.5-inch (114mm) gun, anti-submarine torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a Lynx helicopter.


HMS Montrose

Ice and explosives: South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands

HMS Montrose intercepts pirates – 2010

Flying dentist joins crew in South Atlantic

HMS Dauntless deployed to Falklands – BBC

Islands are key to ice riches, says academic

Britain’s islands in the South Atlantic are frontier posts in a race for economic riches in the Antarctic, according to an academic in Argentina.

In past centuries, St Helena was a vital refuelling station for the commercial supply lines of the British Empire. Now, says Juan Recce, her sister islands have become key strategic assets, as jumping-off points for the ice continent and its underwater wealth.

‘The islands of Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and South Sandwich give logistical control of the path to Antarctica,’ says Recce, executive director of the Argentine Centre for International Studies.

He suggests Antarctica could yield great economic riches – not only oil, but also other natural resources that can be harnessed for the medical drugs industry.

‘Before, there was talk of krill as food for the future,’ says Recce on ‘Today, it is the race for patenting of biodiversity for pharmaceutical purposes, for control of mineral resources on the continental shelf that is submerged and control of hydrocarbon resources that may exist in the subsurface.’

Recce, who is executive director of the Argentine Centre for International Studies, is clearly writing for his country.

He says if Buenos Aires gave up its claim to Las Malvinas (the Falklands), it would be ‘giving up our genome heritage, biodiversity, mineral wealth and, perhaps, oil.’

It’s not about ‘the Kelpers’, he says, using his country’s not-affectionate nickname for Falkland islanders – it’s about climate change, money from pharmaceuticals, and big changes in the way the world’s nations get their energy.

‘We are now facing a high-level game of chess. The Malvinas and Antarctica are, for the United Kingdom, part of a strategic power agenda.

‘The country’s margins expand with its overseas territories in the central South Atlantic.’

On the same website, another article says Britain is becoming unpopular with Argentina’s neighbours over oil exploration in the Falklands. Writer Matt Ince says pledges of support could leave Britain unable to bring in people and supplies through South America.

But he says sympathy and support for Buenos Aires are unlikely to lead to armed conflict.

Ince, of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in the UK, suggests Argentina’s president is using the Falklands to divert attention from spending cuts and restraints on media freedom. says it aims to be an ‘online knowledge hub for those wanting the inside track on European politics’ and the business world.

Film makers focus on the Falkland spirit

Two young film makers are planning to cross the Falkland Islands to try to record the lives of islanders.

Jamie Gallant and Vern Cummins – one American, one a Brit – fly out in June, in the depths of the Southern Hemisphere winter.

The timing should at least help them uncover the resilience that Jamie found on a recce visit in 2011.

Their website says: ’51º South  is the untold story of these extraordinary people.

‘June 2012 will mark the 30th Anniversary of the war. And while the attention of others will focus on the events of the past, our story offers the exceptional opportunity to finally capture the experiences, hardships, and diversity of the characters that construct the patchwork of this truly unique culture. A culture that, no matter how small, challenging or remote its existence may be, commands the attention of nations around the globe.’

I’m not sure their story is ‘untold’, but the last bit is certainly true.

Three-way tango that led to Falklands tensions – 200 years later

Spain had a chance to settle the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands more than 200 years ago – and fluffed it. The diplomatic dithering laid the foundations for the present-day tensions between Britain and Argentina. In a reprint of an article from 1982, Peter Burley tells the story of the 1770 dispute between Britain, France and Spain, which began when France and Britain both set up bases on different parts of the islands – and for three years, failed to discover each other’s presence. The story’s in the February 2012 issue of History Today magazine – and on the web, here.