At last, after much delay, subsequent to the construction of the new airport on St Helena, the island’s namesake ship has ceased its passenger-cargo service from Capetown to the island.
Readers will appreciate St Helena, lying in the South Atlantic 4,000 kms (2,500 miles) east of Rio de Janeiro and 1,950 kms (1,210 miles) west of the Kunene River between Namibia and Angola in southwestern Africa, had long been served by Union Castle Line calling en route UK to Capetown, but this ended in 1977. As a stop-gap, the British government had to purchase a ship to service the remote island from Capetown and the 1963 built Canadian passengercargo ship, Northland Prince, fulfilled the role becoming the first RMS St Helena. This adapted 3,150 ton ship had room for 76 passengers and the island’s supplies. She even served in the Falklands conflict, but afterwards was seen as too small on the service and a new vessel was ordered from Hall Russell at Aberdeen. She has proved a great success since 1990 given the limitations of her route.
She was equipped to carry a wide range of cargo, including liquids to meet the needs of the island where she offl oaded into barges. She had berths for 128 passengers and cruise facilities included a swimming pool, shop, and lounges. She also had wellequipped medical facilities and an on-board doctor. Her capacity was extended in 2012 by the addition of 24 extra cabin berths and a new gym. In November 1999, she broke down en route to the island and was forced into Brest for repairs. Such incidents [intensifi ed calls for the island to have an airport.
In 2005, the British government announced plans to construct an airport on St Helena initially expected to be operational by 2010, but various delays meant the facility wasn’t ready before 2016 and then the safety implications of the dreaded ‘wind-shear’ affecting aircraft raised its head and alleviation matters meant the St Helena was to serve for many more months. But St Helena now has its commercial airport, so the purpose-built ship is no longer needed and is reportedly purchased for a completely new and unique task. Only too easy to believe, well into the 21st Century, she is to be an anti-piracy mother ship.
Renamed MNG Tahiti, the 103-metre (340-foot) ship is being readied by her new owners MNG Maritime to become a floating armoury working in the Gulf of Oman. She will deliver security guards and weapons to vessels sailing through the region and is expected to be operational in her new role in the next few months. Quite how long this purpose will be necessary is anyone’s guess, but she should prove a comfortable, seaworthy and practical vessel for the purpose.