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Friday, August 23, 2019

The article on fishing support vessel development in Tristan de Cunha in the January 2016 issue of Sea Breezes, leads me back 35 years to the Republic of Kiribati (formerly the crown colony of the Gilbert Islands where I had served in command of the principle cargo / passenger ship Moanaraoi 1968 – 70).

I had long seen potential for the establishment of a regular semi-container line with passenger capacity, serving, Kiribati, Tuvalu (Ellice Islands) and Majuro (Micronesia) from Suva in Fiji, linking with mainline Pacific Forum Line and Bank Line sailings. A key element of the proposed service would be the provision of a reefer service to carry frozen tuna from the embryonic Kiribati fishing industry down to the processing plant at Pago Pago in American Samoa. To this end, I had talks with the government’s Fisheries Officer in Tarawa who welcomed the opportunities presented by the proposed service.

I identified a suitable ship, the Icelandic state shipping line’s coastal cargo / passenger ship Hekla, which along with her sister Esja, were being disposed of. I travelled to Iceland to view the ship, and immediately fell in love with her (far more dangerous than falling in love with women!). Ten years old, heavily built and in immaculate condition, she had a container compatible derrick at No1, extensive ‘tween deck and hold space at No2 suitable for island break bulk, and in particular a deep freeze hold at No3. Inter alia, she had a range of cargo handling equipment, which made her well-suited for an additional role envisaged for the vessel, that of providing sea training opportunities for trainees from the Kiribati merchant seamen’s training school. Sadly (or as developments in Kiribati turned out, perhaps fortunately), I could not source the financing necessary, and the grand dream was dropped, with me penniless and out of a job. Back to the offshore industry!

In the mid-1990’s, while serving as Director of Operations of the Trinity House Lighthouse Service, we commissioned a rapid intervention vessel to service the solar-powered floating aids in the greater Thames estuary theatre of operations. Built by Halmatic, THV Ready as she was christened, was a cabin RIB-style vessel capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots. One London Boat Show shortly after her commissioning, I was invited by Halmatic to join them for their annual wing ding at the Show. Never one to turn down such an offer, I accepted.

Upon presenting at Halmatic’s suite, their sales director introduced me to the Administrator of Tristan de Cunha, Chris Bates, who it was hoped was about to buy a second ready for service as a fisheries protection vessel – would I put a good word in? (No such thing as a free lunch!) I chatted with the Administrator for some time, discussing island life. I expressed my interest in Tristan de Cunha, which I had never visited, and the conversation led on to island shipping, and the West Pacific islands, where apparently he had served. We narrowed the field down to Kiribati, and he suddenly blurted out “I knew I recognised you; I was the Fisheries Officer in Tarawa back in 1982, and you had plans for a shipping service which I needed to move my catch”.

Needless to say, a damned good lunch ensued! No more than six months later, the shipping press announced a five year fishing concession which had been won by Premier Fisheries of Cape Town to fish off Tristan de Cunha. Servicing the concession involved the use of a number of small high speed catchers, and two mother ships, the principle one of which was the former Icelandic ship Hekla. My emotions can be imagined!

In October 2015, my wife and I visited Cape Town. I had earlier established that the Hekla, now re-named Edinburgh, was still in service and there, sure enough, she was when I scouted out the docks. Sadly, my wife had not packed my hi-vis jacket, steel toed boots and hard hat within our holiday gear, so I could not gain admission. But it was great to see her still going strong, with tiers of lobster pots stacked high abaft the funnel where I had envisaged deck passengers 33 years earlier, and her 20-tonne derrick un-shipped.

It was good to note in your article that this fine little ship still has a role to play, a far cry from the Icelandic waters where she started and my envisaged west Pacific islands service. I believe, but I am yet to confirm, that Hekla’s sister, Esja saw subsequent service in French Polynesia.

Attached are photographs taken of the Hekla in Reykjavik in 1982 (black hull) and of the Edinburgh (Nee Hekla) in Cape Town, October, 2015. The latter photos clearly show the lobster creels stacked on her main deck and poop.

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