St Helena Online

Tristan da Cunha

At last, the truth about Attorney General being suspended. But you didn’t hear it from St Helena’s ‘open’ government

The people of St Helena were never told that the man who wrote their laws had been suspended while a criminal investigation took place.

They were told only that Frank Wastell was leaving the island “for personal reasons”.

Even when it was announced that the investigation had ended with no criminal charges, his name was not mentioned – despite the clear public interest.

The affair is likely to be seen by many as a cover-up by St Helena Government, albeit only a “passive” failure to release embarrassing information.

Few details have been disclosed about the investigation into the conduct of government staff, beyond the fact that it involved suggestions of lying to the island’s Supreme Court or attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Both are extremely serious matters that can result in a prison sentence.

No suggestion has been made that all those involved were suspected of crime – merely that people had been suspended while it was established whether any person was culpable.

Making the affair public might have undermined confidence in the justice system on St Helena, already damaged by allegations about failures to prosecute sex offenders.

The truth emerged in a court judgement given in an employment tribunal case brought by the two social workers caught up in the affair, Martin Warsama and Claire Gannon.

Judge Anthony Snelson’s ruling on 30 January 2015 revealed that Frank Wastell and Claire Gannon had been suspended from duty seven months earlier over the conduct of an adoption case.

The decision had been made by Acting Governor Sean Burns after consulting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

On 5 February 2015, St Helena Online asked whether Mr Wastell had been “advised/encouraged to resign”. The government press office declined to comment, confirming that criminal investigations were still ongoing.

A decision was made not to run a story on St Helena Online at that late stage because of doubts about fair treatment of Mr Wastell and others involved. It appeared unlikely that a criminal case would arise.

It was also understood the roots of the affair lay in an act of kindness by Mr Wastell that later placed him in a compromising legal position.

Criticism had been levelled by the island’s Chief Justice, Charles Ekins, who heard the adoption case.

The government may have had little choice but to suspend Mr Wastell because of the impossibility of having an attorney general in post while a criminal inquiry was going on.

But it never admitted it had removed him from his duties.

At one stage his office was reported to have been sealed off by police.

Islanders were told only that Mr Wastell was “returning to the UK for personal reasons,”

A press release was issued on 2 June 2014, saying that Mr Wastell would be “returning to the UK for personal reasons” at the end of July. He was formally suspended two weeks later.

The statement said: “Frank has been an integral part of St Helena Government’s legal team since joining as Crown Counsel in 2006.

“He subsequently became Solicitor General and later Attorney General of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in 2013, having served several years acting up in that role since 2006.”

In the same release, Mr Wastell said he and his wife Lorna would never forget the friendship of people on all three islands, and “the vast majority” of his colleagues.

“St Helena and her people will have about as special a place in our hearts as it is possible to have,” he said, “and although we have had to make this decision to leave now, I can say it is with the deepest sadness that we go.”

Attorney General to leave St Helena – press release

Share a kind word: Christmas message from Governor Capes

Governor Mark Capes: spending Christmas at sea. Picture by St Helena Government
Governor Mark Capes: spending Christmas at sea. Picture by St Helena Government

St Helena is certainly getting busier… that is a phrase that I often hear these days and I have to agree with it.  The past year has flashed by, with so much happening and so much still to do.  At times, our sister islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha have also kept me busy during 2013.  Through it all I have enjoyed working with my colleagues to achieve the best outcomes for all three islands.

For me a highlight of 2013 was my first visit to Tristan da Cunha, an extraordinary place and the most remote inhabited island in the world. Its community of less than 300 people extend such a warm welcome to visitors and I do hope that I may visit again one day.

I also greatly enjoyed a short working visit to Cape Town, en-route to Tristan. What made an intense and quite gruelling programme enjoyable was the strong sense of being part of a united team, working hard for St Helena.  All concerned were pulling together, working well with good humour and commitment, to achieve our common objectives.  It was quite a buzz.

As always it is attitude that counts. Sir Winston Churchill once said: “Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference.” How true that is. With a positive attitude so much can be achieved.

I’m much looking forward to the challenges ahead in 2014 and to working with “Team St Helena” to meet those challenges.

As each year comes to a close, and especially at Christmas, we pause to think of family or friends who may be with us no longer.  So while Christmas is for sharing and celebrating with our friends and families, let us also remember those that are mourning the recent loss of a loved one, as well as those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Let’s offer them a helping hand: even just a few kind words or a hug can make a big difference to someone.

This year my Christmas Day will be spent at sea. I will be on the good ship RMS St Helena, heading for Cape Town for a quick visit to London to see my family and then on to Ascension for my first visit following the recent general election there.  I know that I and my fellow passengers will be very well looked after by the superb crew on the RMS – it should be an experience to remember.

At Plantation House, Wendy and Melissa have been busy making Christmas cakes and so a rich and warm aroma of baking cakes has filled the house. The cakes were for me to deliver to the Community Care Complex, Barn View, and those in sheltered homes. The Christmas tree lights have been on in the paddock at Plantation House and, no doubt after much hard work and many rehearsals, the primary schools have presented their Advent plays.

On that happy note, Tamara and I send our very best wishes to everyone on St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha for a blessed Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.   

Governor Mark Capes
December 2013

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.

Rower Sally heads for islands (the easy way)

Sally Kettle’s friends could not understand why she was nervous about heading out to make a film about St Helena and its sister islands.

After all, she is no stranger to the Atlantic Ocean: she has rowed across it twice.

Sally's adventures are described in a book
Sally’s adventures are described in a book

This time – even with a detour via Tristan da Cunha – the voyage aboard the RMS St Helena promised to be considerably more comfortable. With no shark attacks to worry about.

Maybe the nervousness was something to do with the fact that she only got signed up for the trip – and her first job as a TV presenter – a few days before departure.

She made the admission in a brief chat with St Helena Online, just before joining Governor Mark Capes aboard the RMS for – probably – its last-ever voyage to Tristan da Cunha.

Sally contacted the site in search of advice, and suggestions of people to talk to about Saint culture for the film. “It’s a travelogue looking at life and wildlife on the islands,” she said.

“No – not rowing there this time.”

The island odyssey is but the latest in a series of adventures that have included rowing across the Atlantic twice – the second time, with her mother.

They claimed the record for the fastest crossing by a mother-and-daughter team.

She described one of the crossings on her website:

“We faced horrendous conditions, huge seas, ferocious winds, and rain for a month. We also struggled with injuries, which led to one of the team leaving the boat and disqualifying us from the race. It was an emotional rollercoaster but we pulled together and against the odds (no rudder, a shark attack and a broken water-maker) we still crossed the finish line.

“I’ve never spent so much time in pain! From blisters to sciatica, constant muscle pain to overwhelming exhaustion, I was in pain 24 hours a day. Having said that, we made it across and arrived with smiles on our faces!”

Things were already proving challenging when the shark struck:

“Our rudder was stripped from the back of the boat by a huge wave. We jerried up a rudder with T shirts and a bucket at the end of it. And guess what? A great big shark decided to come and eat it.”

In May 2010, Sally joined the crew of a yacht in the Clipper Round the World Race, sailing between Jamaica and the UK via New York and Nova Scotia. She wrote:

“My own race had it’s fair share of disasters – a dismasting, a grounding, several injuries, a couple a which were very serious – in fact I dislocated a toe and fractured my thumb (off the back end of the Isle of White, how exotic!).”

Sally’s website says she has raised more than half a million pounds for charity.

She travelled to Padang in Sumatra with a response team from the International Shelterbox charity, handing out tents to some of the 250,000 families affected by a devastating earthquake.

She has also retraced the footsteps of WW2 Resistance heroine Nancy Wake in a demanding trek across the Pyrenees too – and yes, she’s taking her walking boots to St Helena.

She broke the news that she had landed her first TV presenting job (“Eeek!”) on the internet messaging site, Twitter, only nine days before setting off.

sally tweet job

sally tweet airportsally tweet scaredSome of Sally’s adventures are related in a book, Sally’s Odd at Sea (“Think Bridget Jones meets Moby Dick”).

As well as writing and presenting, she has qualified as a personal trainer and works as a motivational speaker.


No more whale adventures for St Helena’s new diplomat

Tristan da Cunha’s administrator, Sean Burns, is to take up a senior post on St Helena – but  the job is unlikely to offer the same excitements as life on the world’s remotest inhabited island.

Besides dealing with the 2011 wreck of the MS Oliva and the resulting penguin rescue operation, Sean has handled the aftermath of storms, and even help to liberate a tangled whale.

The stricken humpback was spotted 200 yards off Tristan’s Calshot Harbour with a buoy and net caught around its tail.

Sean soon found himself joining three islanders, including police officer Conrad Glass aboard a rigid inflatable boat. His role was to keep radio contact – and take photographs – as the others tried to free the eight-metre-long whale.

Each time the boat approached the stressed creature it would dive – with the buoy increasing the tension on the fishing line.

Eventually they managed to coast alongside the whale and quickly cut the buoy free.

His new job will see him taking over from Clive McGill as head of the governor’s office. He will also serve as acting governor when Mark Capes is away from St Helena.

He brings experience of immigration, project management and human resources in Foreign and Commonwealth Office postings in Tanzanie, Antigua, Bangladesh, Senegal, Kenya and South Korea.

He said he and his wife Marina were looking forward to making their first visit to St Helena at an exciting time.

Not as exciting as the past three years on Tristan da Cunha, perhaps…

Mysteries of the Deep revealed off Tristan da Cunha

Scientists have discovered beautiful creatures living in deep water off Tristan da Cunha, on the first-ever expedition to explore beyond the range of scuba divers.

The expedition team included marine biologist Sue Scott, who has made eight trips to dive in the rough sea around Tristan.

The researchers lowered a camera into the water to photograph deep-sea life along the ocean bottom to a depth of 300 metres, as well as trawling to scoop up samples.

They had sailed to the island aboard the British Antarctic Survey vessel, the James Clark Ross.  

They found the larvae – looking like translucent leaves with eye stalks – that would later grow into the mature rock lobsters that provide the island’s main source of income.

The team also found hermit crabs, feather stars, starfish, sea slugs, and black corals that are used to make jewellery in other parts of the world.

Nets also yielded “gelatinous, blobby things that will need a fair amount of identifying,” according to Sue Scott. She said. “I have no idea how some of these live.”


Banned writer regrets telling Tristan ‘love story’

Simon Winchester, the writer who was banned from Tristan da Cunha for repeating a story of a love affair that may not even have happened, has expressed his sympathy for islanders. 

In an essay for the historical journal Lapham’s Quarterly – written while “wallowing” offshore on a cruise ship – he admits he was wrong to trample on local feelings and re-tell the story of a wartime visitor to the island who fell for a Tristanian girl.

It related how Lieutenant Derrick Booy spent 18 months posted to the island, then returned home and wrote a book describing “a wartime love affair which, by all accounts, had been tender, unconsummated, and quite possibly entirely imagined.”

Islanders had pleaded with him not to repeat the story, which had caused great embarrassment, but he thought they were being over-sensitive, and told it anyway in his book, Outposts – for which he also visited St Helena.

Twelve years later, he returned to the island as a cruise ship lecturer, and learned he was banned from going ashore – for life.

“The Island Council of this half-forgotten outpost of the remaining British Empire has for the last quarter century declared me a Banned Person,” he says. “I am welcome on Tristan neither today nor, indeed, as was succinctly put to me in a diplomatic telegram last year, ‘ever’.”

When he told fellow travellers on his latest trip, he says, “a gasp went up. Most seemed quite incredulous… Tristan is British, and you are British: it isn’t even an immigration question. It is a simple assault on free speech.”

But during an “irritating” wait in his cabin, he says, he reflected on the upset he had caused.

“I had no understanding whatsoever that by repeating that naval officer’s memoir, I could hurt the feelings of anyone. To my clumsy, unthinking, touristic mind, the notion seemed quite absurd. I held to an unspoken assumption that as a visitor from the sophisticated outside, I knew better.”

Despite his contrition, though, he is not greatly flattering towards this island.

“Though some may suspect sour grapes,” he writes, “I have to confess that there is little of great charm to Tristan.” Once visitors have visited the pub, the shop, the potato patches and the Welcome To The Remotest Island sign, “most will be eager to return to their waiting cruise ship, to wonder as the island fades away astern, why on earth anyone would wish to live there.”

Read the full essay here

Island’s eco warriors need a new chief. Salary: £43k

The Peaks from Long Range 640A new person is being sought to lead the team protecting St Helena’s environment.

The post is being advertised with a £43,000 salary, plus allowances – but the job description makes it clear the role will be demanding.

It says: “St Helena’s natural environment is unique and very fragile; it is also our greatest asset. To ensure that we do not lose this, we need to develop sound environmental management.

“Highly organised with the ability to multi-task and prioritise a heavy workload, you will be an excellent communicator, able to work with people at all levels and abilities.”

The island’s Environmental Management Division has 24 staff. The advert says its focus is shifting from policy-making to work in the field: monitoring, evaluating and enforcing new rules to protect the island and its ecology.

Prospective leaders will be expected to bed-in new policy within government and across the island. They need a first degree or equivalent experience, and ability to work with a wide range of people, including private businesses and developers.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is also advertising for a marine biologist on Tristan da Cunha, to help with sustainable management of the marine environment.

The advert says: “The postholder will gather information to improve understanding of the functioning of the shallow water marine ecosystems of the Tristan islands, leading to better-informed decisions on the use of marine natural resources and a better understanding of and preparedness for the likely impacts of climate change in the marine environment.”

The job will involve diving.

The job is described as “a unique chance to work on Tristan and explore its amazing marine environment.”

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St Helena: Head of Environmental Management
Tristan da Cunha: Marine Biologist

25 days after setting out, Tristan passengers still couldn’t land

Three and a half weeks after first sailing from Cape Town, passengers on the beleaguered MV Edinburgh finally reached Tristan da Cunha on Monday 17 June 2013 – only to find they could not go ashore.

Sea conditions were too rough at Calshot Harbour and Captain Clarence October decided to  sit out the weather in the lee of the island.

They finally got ashore – along with fresh provisions and long-awaited mail for the islanders – on Tuesday 18 June.

The ship departed from South Africa on 23 May 2013 on what should have been a seven-day voyage, but turned back only 403 nautical miles from the island because of technical problems.

A tug was sent out to intercept the vessel, taking spare parts that were used to carry out repairs at sea.

The ship reached Cape Town on 6 June for further repairs and sea trials, while the 11 passengers – including children and a Foreign Office official – spent the weekend at Tristan House.

The vessel set out for the island again on Monday 10 June, with the Tristan website commenting: “If any voyage deserves good weather with a following wind, the possibility of a six-day transit and an immediate landing of passengers, it is this particular sailing.”

It was not to be.

Islanders were also keenly awaiting the landing of supplies: rationing had been introduced at the store in the settlement.

Read the full saga on the Tristan website.