Built at Hall, Russell & Company’s shipyard in Aberdeen in 1989, RMS St Helena has since 1990, given sterling service to the remote South Atlantic islands of St Helena, Ascension and less frequently has called in at Tristan da Cunha.
In those deep and often stormy seas, she has performed with distinction and truly deserved her Royal Mail Ship (RMS) nomenclature. Apart from mail, she has carried all sorts of cargoes – medical supplies, animals, construction materials, household goods etc, but she is also of course a passenger vessel (156 passengers) – a very important part of her role until now.
Times are, however, changing – and a new airport has been built at St Helena, making this tough little ship (LOA 105m) redundant – a freight only ship will replace her. The owners have placed her for sale. Due to significant wind shear problems at the new airport, RMS St Helena will now remain on the St Helena service until September 2016 at least (Read more in Cruise News in the print issue). Island communities value their lifeline shipping services and that is what RMS has provided for 26 years. They can be critical, but RMS St Helena has earned their respect and gratitude and there will be sadness at her going.
On Wednesday 8th June I was privileged to attend a lunch onboard RMS St Helena, berthed alongside HMS Belfast, just across the Thames from the Tower of London. This was a ship that has earned her keep in the South Atlantic riding out many a storm – I felt an instant respect for the ship and the women and men who have manned her – many of them for many years. It was indeed the end of an era and an appreciation of the importance of her role and the regard in which she is held was reflected in the crowds which witnessed her earlier passage through Tower Bridge. On boarding her, the welcome from the ship’s officers and crew was warm and that of a team whose cohesiveness is self evident. We enjoyed a fine lunch (a credit to the Chef and his team) in good company. Talking to crew members from various departments, their pride in their ship comes quickly to the surface.
For those lucky enough to have travelled as a passenger on RMS St Helena, it must have been a very special voyage on this small, tough, but attractive vessel. I wish the ship and her crew good fortune in the years ahead.