Six months ago, St Helena experienced a very frustrating situation whereas the Island was faced with a critical water shortage. In February that situation improved when the long awaited down pour of rain finally came.
Although rainfall has been fairly consistent over the last few weeks, yesterday the situation was totally different from that of six months ago when suddenly a downpour of torrential rainfall started to cause some disruption to the Islands Monday routine.
As the rain continued into the early afternoon the sudden rainfall began causing some flash flooding along the streets of Jamestown. As the overflow of water gushed mud and debris into Napoleon and Main street continuing to the grand parade.
The street continued flooding as the drainage system became blocked as it was unable to accommodate the flow of water. The flooding caused some considerable disruption and some damage was caused to local businesses as water flowed into some lower ground buildings. The bank of St Helena which is located directly opposite the market place at the bottom of the street was forced to close its doors to the public as a result of over flowing water and staff at the bank could be seen trying to defeat the flow of water as it continued to rain.
Landslides in the sandy bay area and impact to the roads were also reported.
The continuous overnight rain had also caused some small rocks to fall down the Jamestown slops onto both Ladder Hill and side path roads.
Recorded winds around the Island this week has been fairly light and yesterday was no exception but the main affected areas were Sandy bay and Jamestown.
Bottom woods recorded only 3.4 mm of rainfall and Longwood recorded 9 mm in comparison to Jamestown who recorded 26 mm.
It seems that this sort of weather behaviour is not very common as one local resident recalled this happen just over three years ago.
The wharf area was close for a period but has been reopened this afternoon to the public. The clear up has begun, the St Helena Government roads division are busy unblocking drains and clearing the debris from Ladder Hill and side path roads. The Islands water stocks are certainly nearing full capacity as water is once again flowing over the top of the heart shape waterfall and the Islands vegetation is looking very green as the winter sets in.
The official announcement was delivered today. “That SA Air link are the chosen bidders to provide commercial air services to St Helena”
The long awaited press release from the St Helena Government announcing the successful bidder was somewhat brief and sort of an anticlimax; As it was always apparent who was going to be the preferred bidder after Atlantic Airlines and Cello Aviation was told that they weren’t going to be invited to continue through to the second phase of the tender process. The confirmation came really when SA Air link were chartered to airlift home the stranded passengers from South Africa last month. For this the SA Air link used an identical aircraft the Avero RJ Aircraft that Atlantic Star Airlines used when they landed on St Helena last year.
However, generally the community are now asking when will flights commence but again Government is asking the public to be patient. For most of us patience is wearing thin and there is a feeling in the community that indicates most are seeking alternative means of access. For some they have already taken the decision to don’t travel to and from St Helena at all. Let’s hope that Atlantic Airlines and other providers are not perturbed by disappointment and will soldier on to continue to offer St Helena the alternative service especially for the UK and Ascension links.
The community is greatly aware that Atlantic Star who also submitted a comprehensive bid to offer air services that was designed to grow the travel needs of St Helena, included options to employ saints.
How long will it take the St Helena Government to negotiate the final part of the tender with SA air link. Your guess is as good as mine as the announcement didn’t explicitly say this but more on the lines like how long is a piece of string.
Details of the connecting hub and flight schedules and commencement date is also up in the air so it seems as this we are told also forms part on the ongoing contractual negotiations.
The preferred connecting hub for most saints are Cape Town International in South Africa, this will enable familiar onward travel for most. The original decision however to use Johannesburg as a hub could still be a possibility.
The concerns about Saints living on Ascension and the Falkland Islands remains a big unresolved issue. The possibility of air travel via Ascension to connect with St Helena air travel could be highly unlikely if Ascension Island wide-awake airfield remains closed to commercial aircraft due to ongoing safety concerns with the runway. Though it is generally known that Ascension will remain the alternative airport for St Helena in case of emergency.
So what do we know about SA Airlink.
SA Airlink is a South African domestic and regional carrier and it is privately owned and mainly based in Johannesburg.
Airlink was formed in 1978 and forms is part of a feeder for SA Airlines some of the aircraft owned by the company are Avero RJ85s, Embraers and BAE Jet streams.
Like most airlines airlink have suffered a few incidents and accidents over the years some of which occurred in September 2009, December 2009, defence web in South Africa reported that SA Air link had four incidents in three months.
SA Airlink is a member of IATA (International Air Transport Association)
SA Airlink have flown to St Helena only a few months ago to bring home stranded passengers when the RMS St Helena experienced mechanical issues.
Do you have any experience of SA Airlink?
What are your thoughts of St Helena’s new Air service?
Are you looking forward to flying to St Helena with SA Airlink?
It has been announced by SHG that an Air partner chartered RJ85 Aircraft will arrive at St Helena’s Airport from Cape Town with some of the affected RMS passengers onboard as early as Wednesday 03rdMay 2017.
The affected passengers spent weeks of frustration sitting in Capetown whilst SHG and DFID negotiated and agreed to put on a flight to bring the passengers home. This solution was talked about earlier but have only just recently became a reality.
As many will recall Andrew weir shipping notified the Island on the 16th April 2017, that the RMS St Helena had developed a further fault with its starboard propeller only hours after it had left drydock in Simons Town. It was reported that RMS develop the very same problem it went into drydock to have fixed in the first place.
Whilst docked in Capetown it was also discovered that water was leaking through the new shaft seals that was fitted. This now meant the RMS St Helena would have to return to drydock to rectify the faults and as a consequence the forthcoming scheduled voyages to St Helena had to be cancelled. Some tourist passengers was forced to returned home.
A decision was taken to unloaded both passengers and cargo in preparation for its return back to Simonstown dry dock. Cargo was then loaded onto the MV Helena. The MV Helena is the replacement vessel for the RMS St Helena when she finally goes off line but had to be brought quickly into service to bring the awaited cargoes to St Helena. The RMS St Helena will continue during the transition period from sea to air and will be taken out of service when the air service is fully implemented.
After much discussions most passengers were accommodated with family and friend and other went into Hotels and Guest houses around Capetown. Most if not all transit and tourist class passengers, returned back to their home countries because there was no clarity on timeline or a contingency plan in place to move the affected passengers to St Helena.
Up to ten passengers were offered a voyage to St Helena on the survey research vessel Ocean Observer which incidentally was departing Cape town the same week. The Ocean Observer and was on route to Puerto Rico but was happy to divert via St Helena to drop off passengers. It was first thought that the Ocean Observer could accommodate more than ten passengers on this journey, however, the UK MCSA did not give approval for this to happen. This meant that the majority of passengers were to remain in Cape town until the Government found a solution.
Whist the passengers sat in Capetown and with no worthwhile news nor clarity coming from AW shipping managers, SHG and DFID many rumours circulated through the social media platform. Most social media post complained about the lack of communication from the official authorities back in London and in St Helena. During this news outage over the Easter period, the community radio station Saint Fm worked tirelessly to keep everyone up to speed with the events as they unfolded.
During this time, another situation had unfolded on Ascension Island. The Ascension Island Airfield operators had announced that they were cancelling all commercial and South Atlantic Airbridge flights for the foreseeable future. There were safety concerns about the state of its Airfield, this meant that people travelling to and from the Falkland Island and also the UK would not be able to make the journey to Ascension Island to connect with the RMS St Helena in Ascension.
With all of this now causing even further impact on the St Helena travel situation it began to look even more difficult to overcome.
Finally the St Helena Government announced that their Air partner has teamed up with SA Air-link and has a contractual agreement to fly the affected passengers to St Helena via Namibe on Wednesday 03rdMay 2017.
Two of the affected passengers Tracy and Chad Corker who were stuck in Cape town are booked onto the flight from Cape town, Tracy said apart from been totally frustrated with the communication issues during this whole process, she is looking forward to arriving home in style by air and she has decided to purchase a new outfit for the arrival day. Tracy owns and operates one of the oldest and most successful establish tour services (Corkers Tourist Services) on the Island.
The Islands Governor Lisa Phillips was also due to return back to the Island on this flight.
The Air Partner and SA Air link flight will also be offering priority booking seats on the return flight from St Helena to Capetown for those passengers that were affected by the delay of the RMS. St Helena Government and local media on St Helena will be updating every one with more details as soon as they become available.
Passengers who were connecting with the RMS voyage 256 via Ascension were offered a passage to the Island on RMS voyage 257 which leaving Capetown on or about 04th may 2017. Some of the passengers with onward travel arrangements have already flown to Cape town this weekend. Some affected medivacs and St Helena Government employees are due to fly on a BA flight departing PM from London Heathrow Airport on Wednesday 03rd May 2017. These passengers will be transferred to the RMS directly on arrival in cape town.
Discussion are ongoing to re-route passengers via Cape town who are affected by the Ascension Island connection on voyage 257 on the 13th May 2017. This would however mean a six weeks duration would be required for this journey and that for most people another disappointment as they would not be able to get that amount of leave and will be forced to cancel their trip.
Speaking with a family who had planned this journey for some years (via Ascension) to visit there 86-year-old granny and great granny is devastated as they are finding it difficult to change their travel arrangements at such short notice.
The RMS was due to depart Simons Town drydock today 02 May for sea trials, this however didn’t happen and the RMS is still in Simons Town. It is hope that news of the delay will be forthcoming .
Travel to St Helena by sea and air gets even more frustrating to say the least. The recent news of the RMS with a further problem and the Ascension runway closed for emergency repairs and despite all of this St Helena has an operational airport but no air service. Rumours are on the Streets of Jamestown and across social media stating that the RMS will sail on one engine from Capetown this week as it did on the previous voyage. Yesterday these rumours were confirmed by a press release from the St Helena Government. St Helena Line has notified the Islands government that a further problem has been detected with the starboard propeller on the RMS St Helena. The problem shows that the starboard propeller blades are locked into a forward position. A decision has been made to continue the voyage to the Island on one engine which will result in a delay to arrival times to the island and also the rest of the voyage.
Regarding Ascension, the government has said that routine flights from the UK to Ascension and the Falkland Islands will not take place from the 14th April until further notice due to safety concerns as a result of ongoing issues with the Islands runway. A number of people are booked to depart Brize Norton (UK) on the 14th and 19th April 2017 to fly to Ascension in time to connect with the RMS for onward travel to St Helena. The press release states that passenger lists are been reviewed and a decision on the best way forward will be announced shortly.
The whole situation is very discouraging and in most cases annoying for travellers and more especially for those who have had to cancel their passages because they are unable to follow through on their planned itinerary.
Cargo operations were ongoing and the RMS was scheduled to depart PM on Friday 14th April (yesterday) however we are waking up to further news that the RMS is still alongside at Duncan dock in Cape town and is due to depart at 10 AM this morning.
Social media reacts as the frustration deepens”.
A Island businessman writes.
“The time has come for SHG to think outside the box!! We have a functioning airport, why not charter an able aircraft that can safely land here…bring in Saints that are now cut off due to Ascension runway and make things a little more positive than this huge negativity? ????”
“The Tannoy announces The RMS will sail to St Helena on one propeller”
The majority of food products sold to the consumer in a Supermarket on St Helena Island normally costs more than double and in some cases almost triple the actual price that can be seen in your normal high street supermarket outlet in South Africa or the UK.
St Helena depends on the majority of its food products to be imported from South Africa or transshipped from the UK which is then delivered to St Helena on the RMS St Helena. As a result, this makes the cost of living rather high and the reason behind such a high price tag is due to the freight cost which is among the highest in the world and already is expected to be increased within the new shipping service to be provided by Andrew Weir Shipping. However the cost of living is set to increase if the new proposed Food Safety Ordinance 2016 gets approved in its entirety by Legislative Council. It has been highlighted that certain components of the Ordinance will impact everyone who lives in or is hoping to visit St Helena. One of the main parts of the Ordinance which will have an adverse effect is the Governments plan to ban the importation of fresh or frozen meat products from South Africa. St Helena imports frozen meats such as Chicken, Pork, Sausages, Beef, Lamb, Fish and Bacon from South Africa as the Island cannot produce or meet demand locally. The new drafted Food Safety Ordinance dictates that importers of meat products will only be allowed to import meat from approved EU suppliers. Merchants on the Island do not import frozen products on a large-scale on the transhipment service from the UK, as the cost and risk of doing so has massive financial impacts if the frozen products don’t reach the Island in the correct storage conditions and merchants would be directly responsible for the shipment regardless of the condition on arrival. It is also not cost-effective to tranship frozen goods as there is a massive price difference on UK frozen products at source compared to SA products.
Speaking directly to some importers on the Island the forecast that if they are forced to import meat product from the EU authorized suppliers and not from South Africa under the new regulations then this would lead firstly to an increase to almost four times the price at source, and most certainly a reduction in the choice of products imported. Such a move by the Government will greatly increase the risk of food security because it will take 10 weeks to resupply goods from the UK if unexpected shortages occur. Re-sellers and small business owners like service providers in the catering industry fear that this will impact their business massively as they will have to increase their prices for visitors and locals alike. They also believe that this will not encourage clients to use their service as regular as they do now and will result in less income. One business owner stated he is frustrated with the new legislation whilst it is understood that a number of pieces of legislation are being revamped or introduced to support a potential new tourist industry, in this particular instance, they can see no logic in the banned importation of meat products from South Africa. South Africa is one of the tourist capitals of the world and as a business owner put it “I am certain tourists don’t take their own meat products with them” This is particularly reasoning when in this large tourism continent, there are never many or no cases identifying food quality problems as long as there are systems in place monitoring the distribution, catering and hospitality industries. Another local St Helenian commented that “The idea of banning meats from South Africa makes no sense to me what if Britain decides to leave the EU in a few months after the referendum then this will make us look silly”
It has been made official by St Helena Line that from July 2016, the passenger and cargo Royal mail Ship St Helena will be removed from service. The RMS St Helena is intended for sale and London ship broker CW Kellock & Co Ltd has already been appointed to oversee the sale of the RMS. This news comes as expected to many who live on St Helena and passengers from around the world who have travelled on the vessel many times, everyone with connections to St Helena and the RMS Somehow cannot but feel that it formed part of the Islands life line.
The RMS St Helena has been attached to the Island and has been in operation for more than a quarter of a century therefore the impact of its absence affect the entire community locally on St Helena and abroad.
For the many years that the vessel has served the people of St Helena, it was managed by St Helena Line Ltd
St Helena being a remote South Atlantic Island meant that movement to and from the island was sufficiently served by the ship and this is where attachment stemmed from. This mode of transport has finally been phased out for what we will remember as a UK Overseas Territory located 1200 miles off the West coast of Africa in the South Atlantic.
Due to the size of the island, the RMS St Helena was adequate to meet all the transportation needs of the island at the time. The RMS was built specifically to serve the St Helena route, the ship was constructed in 1989 in Aberdeen Scotland. Even though she served a relatively small island the ship was big enough for all of the Island needs, with the ability to accommodate 156 passengers in its 56 cabins and at the same time carried enough cargo for the Island. A ship of this magnitude needed a large crew to manage her and she was therefore staffed with a total of 56 officers and crew members.
A ship that carries the RMS prefix had the permission to carry mail for the British Royal Mail under contract. This task dates back to the 1840s and today only four ships have the contract. The RMS St Helena is one out of the four ships and now the latest to drop that designation.
The RMS St Helena has been operating on a tight schedule since it was commissioned. The regular schedule has been operating out of Cape
Town but calling at St Helena and Ascension Island. A new airport is set to be opened on St Helena on 21st May 2016 and shortly after this the ship will cease its operations. It is assumed that with the new airport the majority of passengers will fly to St Helena and cargo movement will happen by another sea freight contractor. It is hope that the airport will be the newest and most widely used means of transport to the island.
It is just under 100 days to decommissioning date and the last few voyages will happen over the next few weeks to mark the grand finale to a long but historic service to the people of St Helena. The RMS is scheduled to call at Tristan da Cunha then head north followed by a farewell voyage to the UK. She is expected to visit the port of London then be moored alongside HMS Belfast off Tower Pier starting 7th to 10th June 2016 she will then sail south to St Helena on her final voyage.
The future of RMS St Helena. The hope for the future of the RMS St Helena has not been determined yet but continued service in another part of the world will enable the ship to continue its service to humanity.
The RMS holds many memories for almost everyone who has sailed on her.
Here is a collection of a few photos that was taken over the years.
Do you have any photographic memories that you would like to share of the RMS?