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RMS St. Helena's Historic 'Only' Visit to London Before Countdown to Final Voyage

13th June 2016
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RMS St.Helena moored alongside HMS Belfast in the Pool of London, on a historic first and only visit of the UK capital before a final voyage (St. Helena-Cape Town) of this unique 'combined' service is scheduled in September RMS St.Helena moored alongside HMS Belfast in the Pool of London, on a historic first and only visit of the UK capital before a final voyage (St. Helena-Cape Town) of this unique 'combined' service is scheduled in September Photo: Photo Jehan Ashmore

#RMSstHelena - RMS St. Helena, having served a 26 year career to her namesake island in the South Atlantic Ocean, surprisingly only this year she finally made a historic first visit to the centre of London, her port of registry, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The unique passenger-freight ship with Royal Mail Ship (RMS) designation made this momentous once-off final call to the UK capital, before she is to be decommissioned later this year.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, RMS St. Helena, recently completed a rare voyage to the UK under command of Captain Rodney Young. Normally she serves the only sea connection between St. Helena with the outside world to Cape Town, South Africa. A distance of 1,950km and taking a five-day voyage. 

On arrival to the UK, she first called to Tilbury Docks to disembark passengers and unload cargo, before spending four days last week moored upriver on the Thames in the Pool of London. The location surrounded by the iconic backdrop of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London. In addition to City Hall, the office been Borris Johnson's former workplace as Mayor of London.

Up until 2011, the St. Helena Line had the ship based from UK ports, initially Cardiff followed by a switch to Portland, Dorset. The vessel of 6,797 gross tonnage is under the operation of AW Ship Management Ltd. See related story, Andrew Weir Shipping (AWSR) of their former ro-ro Longstone, which as Dorset called to Dublin Port.

Last week's events to commemorate RMS St. Helena’s years of duty took place on board in the Pool of London while moored alongside HMS Belfast, the preserved WW2 Battle Cruiser. The Irish connection was apt, as Afloat reported, RMS St. Helena’s once-off charter cruise in 1995 to include Ireland, albeit not Belfast, but calls to Dublin and Cobh (Cork). These ports of call were part of a Swan Hellenic cruise of the Western Scottish Isles and also the Isle of Man.

During RMS St. Helena’s stay in the Pool of London, the Scottish custom-built vessel dating to 1989 was visited by the Royal family's, Princess Anne who had previously travelled on board to the island in 2002. On the theme of royalty, according to St. Helena Line, the only other RMS vessel is that of Cunard Line’s flagship liner, Queen Mary 2, a caller to several Irish ports since 2004.

The primary reason for ending the career of ‘RMS’ as she is affectionately called by St. Helenian’s or ‘Saints’ to whom they heavily depend as this ship is a life-line is due to new airport, the first built on the British Overseas Territory. The population of around 4,500 in more recent times have the right to hold UK passports, having previously had only those from the tiny territory.

At only 47 square miles the volcanic outcrop is 1,200 miles off Africa, from where commercial flights to Johannesburg were due to have begun recently, however delays to the airport’s opening (for details click here) have led to a brief reprieve by extending the number of voyages. The ship has two cargo holds equipped cranes. She can accommodate 159 passengers and has a  crew of 59.

During the Pool of London call, this opportunity provided me to meet the crew including both Captains Rodney Young and Andrew Greentree who hail along with most of catering crew from St. Helena. They were clearly very proud of RMS St. Helena which was kept in great condition, noting the timber decks with the outdoor pool. This formed part of the tours for invited guests and media of their unique ship and the service she has loyaly given, yet jobs will be lost when a replacement containership enters service.

Afloat.ie will have more details of this German vessel which will include ‘passengers’ albeit to a much reduced capacity compared to the 'RMS'.

Tomorrow’s departure from Tilbury (London Cruise Terminal), where RMS St. Helena is currently berthed to load containers (understood to include eight reefers). In addition to passenger guests who are to embark on what was scheduled to be the final ever voyage. This final UK southbound voyage will make en route calls to Tenerife, Ascension before finally reaching St. Helena and culminating in Cape Town in mid-July.

The extended voyages of one of the world’s last remaining combined passenger-freight liner services, are scheduled to late September. As usual, the deep-sea service will be primarily between Jamestown (at anchorage) off the capital of St. Helena and Cape Town. 

Published in Ports & Shipping
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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