Monthly flights between St Helena and Ascension Island have been negotiated, after months of discontent over the vital link being excluded from the original deal with winning contractor Comair. Each month, of the the airline’s Saturday flights from Johannesburg will land at St Helena and then continue on to Ascension for an overnight stop, before a return flight on the same route. Executive councillor Lawson Henry had led angry calls for a way to be found for Saints working on Ascension and the Falklands to be able to fly home without expensive detours of many thousands of miles. Ascension Island Government acknowledge support from Governor Mark Capes and Enterprise St Helena in applying pressure for the link to be provided.
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.”
Saint FM Community Radio can be heard live on Ascension from 1 October 2013, a message to St Helena Online has confirmed.
It comes six months after the station was revived as a community enterprise on St Helena, following its abrupt closure at Christmas 2012 in the face of new competition from a government-funded company.
Councillors on St Helena have been urged to reconsider the level of funding for South Atlantic Media Services, which publishes The Sentinel newspaper but has so far launched only two of three promised radio stations for the island.
With the re-launch of Saint FM, the justification for launching another station has been questioned privately by island politicians and media-watchers.
Well over a century has passed since John Knipe deserted from the crew of a whaling ship at Jamestown, and he is long dead; but far across the Atlantic, that same vessel is being prepared to take to sea once more.
The Charles W Morgan, once a familiar sight in James Bay, has been relaunched at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut after five years of restoration.
The vessel is the world’s last surviving wooden whaling ship: first launched at New Bedford in 1841.
When her $7 million dollar restoration is complete in 2014, she is due to embark on a commemorative voyage to the great whaling ports of New England, including New Bedford. There are no plans for her to make the dangerous voyage to her old hunting grounds around the islands of the South Atlantic.
Thousands turned out at Mystic Seaport, the vessel’s home since 1941, to see her floated once again on Sunday 21 July 2013.
The final stage of restoration will include fitting new masts.
A deck house built for the wife of one of the ship’s captains will remain on the quayside. Clara Tinkham left the ship at St Helena to find her own way home, unwilling to put up with life aboard a whaler.
The crowd saw Sarah Bullard, the great-great-great granddaughter of original owner Charles Waln Morgan, smash a bottle containing ocean water over the ship’s bow.
Documentary maker Ric Burns praised the preservation shipyard at Mystic Seaport and the organisations in more than 20 states that helped with the restoration of the ship – which had been declared a national historic monument.
He said: “Having taken in and cared for and lovingly provided a home for the Charles W Morgan, the last and only whale ship in the world since 1949, you’ve now done something even more extraordinary: you’ve given her back her wings, made it possible for her to sail again and given her back to the sea.”
While a large team of craftsman has been stripping the decks and steaming great hull planks – some from 200-year-old oaks that were felled by Hurricane Katrina – others have been working through the ship’s records.
Thus we know that a 38-year-old adventurer, listed as John [Knife] Knipe, joined voyage 10 of the Charles W Morgan at New Bedford in April 1875 and escaped ashore at St Helena on 15 November the following year.
His place of residence was listed in the record as Providence, another New England whaling port, and there was a brief description of him: height 5’8″, eyes dark, hair black, complexion dark.
He was one of 24 men who deserted at various ports during that three-year voyage, but there were plenty of others willing to take their place, including six who shipped at St Helena during various calls at the island.
Some of those joining the crew at Jamestown over the years would be whaling men looking for a ride home; others might have been islanders prepared to take on the hardships of a brutal trade to escape poverty.
The record for voyage ten lists Jose Cuemintel, a “greenhand”; Antone Vera, a boatsteerer; Adolphus Hayard and William Brown, seamen; Joseph Parry, 4th mate; and George Thomas, “boy”, who shipped at St Helena in November 1876 and was discharged at the island eight months later.
Others followed on later voyages: William J George on voyage 13, George T Samuel on voyage 22, and Thomas Stokes, “preventer boatsteerer” in 1899.
The ship’s voyage of 1856 to 1859 saw three men in their early 20s join the crew at Ascension Island: their names are listed as Joe Ascension, Tom Ascension and Friday Ascension.
The records also contain an account of the ship’s working days by a “grand sailerman” named John Levitt. He described how, by 1913, the ship was laid up, her whaling days apparently over, when she was bought and repaired by Captain Benjamin Cleveland, who hoped to go after sperm whale and sea elephant oil off Desolation Island in the Indian Ocean.
The cost of making her seaworthy was met partly by a film company for a picture set partly on a whaling ship.
The Charles W Moore eventually sailed in 1916, but she began leaking after a storm and eight men deserted at the Cape Verde islands, believing she would sink. Four men were lost when one of the ship’s boats capsized in heavy surf at Desolation.
“Leaving Desolation Island on 12 May,” wrote Leavit, “the Morgan worked northward into the South Atlantic and on 8 August raised the island of St Helena, where she anchored next day. There she lay for eight days while fresh water was taken aboard, some repairs were made, and the crew was given a chance to stretch their legs ashore, a watch at a time.”
When the Morgan embarks on her 38th voyage in May 2014, after final fitting out and crew training, her goals will include telling the story of different cultures that came together at sea, and of America’s changing attitudes to the natural world.
“The last is the most significant,” says the Mystic Seaport website. “Whales were hunted almost to extinction. Today, America celebrates the whale and works for its recovery. Where once the Charles W Morgan’s cargo was oil and bone, today her cargo is knowledge.”
St Helena historian Trevor Hearl wrote that St Helena could have much to add to that knowledge.
In a paper re-published in June 2013 in the book, St Helena Britannica, he pointed out that little was known about the island’s biggest source of income after flax-growing.
“Think what must be hidden in St Helena newspapers and archives,” he wrote. “Shipping lists alone would give details of every whaler at Jamestown from 1829 to 1883, perhaps longer.”
The records recall resentment on the impoverished colony at American whalers making fortunes in St Helena’s waters, while efforts to establish a local whaling company failed. In 1882, islanders even watched a visiting ship catch a whale within sight of Ladder Hill Fort.
The trade effectively ended with the coming of the First World War. The Charles W Morgan’s visit to St Helena in 1916 was one of the very last to be made by a whaling vessel, aside from a call by a massive Norwegian factory ship in 1960, bound for a last hunt in Antarctica.
Ascension Island has issued a special £2 coin to mark the passing of Baroness Thatcher, the former UK prime minister who sent a task force to the South Atlantic to wrest the Falklands from Argentine invaders.
Wideawake Airfield on Ascension briefly became the world’s busiest airport during the conflict, with aircraft parked wing-to-wing in every available space.
A set of four stamps was also issued on 14 June 2013 – Liberation Day in the Falklands, marking the 31st anniversary of the Argentinian surrender.
As Mrs Thatcher, she stopped over on Ascension and visited The Residency – home of the island’s administrator – en route to visit the Falklands after the victory.
The Coin Update website reports that 10,000 of the silver coins have been issued by Pobjoy Mint, along with an unlimited number of nickel coins.
Cruise passengers headed for St Helena on the MV Plancius have fared better than those who set off on the same voyage in 2012.
They were stranded for several days in the icy waters of South Georgia, before being rescued and taken to South America – missing out on their planned visit to Tristan da Cunha, St Helena and Ascension.
The ship’s main propulsion system had failed, leaving it without the power it needed to face the demanding voyage to Tristan.
This year’s passengers have had a better voyage. Conrad Glass, Tristan’s well-known “rockhopper copper”, reports on Facebook that he helped land 54 people from the Plancius on Nightingale Island.
The converted icebreaker, which carries up to 117 passengers and 43 crew, is due to reach James Bay on 23 April 2013 for a two-day visit, before heading on to Ascension.
The online brochure for its Atlantic Odyssey cruise, costing 6,000 euros, says it offers “a unique possibility to visit several of the remotest islands in the world.
“Beautiful and often rare species live on these islands, many of them not found anywhere else in the world. Isolated local communities can also be visited.”
It emphasises St Helena’s natural attractions: “Beautiful flowers such as the nearly extinct St. Helena Ebony, the rich marine bird-life such as noddies, terns, petrels and tropic-birds and the endemic and rare Wire-bird,” it says, “give nature photographers a unique possibility to see and photograph these true wonders of nature.
Hundreds of tourists who enjoyed a visit to St Helena aboard the MS Amsterdam were less fortunate when they reached Ascension on 17 April 2013.
Passenger Bradley Elliott wrote in his World Traveller blog: “We almost made it.
“We were in the tender about 100 yards from the dock and the captain announced that it was not safe to disembark the tenders, so back to the ship we went. However, I did take some nice photos.”
It was a second blow for one passenger aboard the Amsterdam. Having travelled hundreds of miles to reach St Helena, he tripped only a few yards after stepping ashore on the wharf, which was being resurfaced. He and his wife spent most of their day at the island’s hospital.
A soldier who fell off a bicycle during a training exercise on Ascension has been paid an undisclosed sum to fund her daily care, reports the UK-based Chronicle Live website. Joanne Lilley, 41, was on the island preparing for deployment to Afghanistan when she lost control on a bend and hit her head, suffering life-changing damage. Chronicle Live reports that her family sued the Ministry of Defence for not ensuring she wore a helmet. Read the full story here.
Four lads on Ascension have received the Chief Scouts Award, the highest honour a scout can gain within their troop. Scott Duncan, Cody Harris, Callum John and Duncan Stroud met the requirements for the award “many times over,” according to the Islander website. For pictures and more detail, visit the site here.
Five members of the Guides on Ascension have also won awards, reports Cheryl Anthony MBE. Christiane Anthony earned all eight possible Octant awards in areas such as leadership and community action. Shelly Williams, Shannon Duncan, Caitlin Thomas and Shannon Yon were awarded seven Octants.
Cheryl said: “You cannot gain these awards without being 100% dedicated to girlguiding.” Sadly, she had to give up being a leader after many years and reported that the Guides were no longer operational on Ascension.