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RMS Farewell Final UK Voyage Bound for 'Home' of St. Helena

14th June 2016

#RMSstHelena - RMS St. Helena departed just after 4pm this afternoon to embark on her final ever voyage from the UK on a 4,500 miles journey bound for the South Atlantic Ocean island of St. Helena, writes Jehan Ashmore.

She is the last of the working Royal Mail Ships cargoship’s that also takes up to 159 passengers, and this evening the St. Helena Line vessel headed downriver of the Thames Estuary. The 59 crew of RMS St. Helena is to make en route calls, firstly Tenerife, where she is scheduled in four days. Normally, she sails to and from Jamestown, the island's capital to Cape Town, South Africa and that distance alone is a mere 1,200 miles!

The 6,797 gross tonnage ship which had a once off Irish call is to be withdrawn when her operators, AW Ship Management which won the contract to continue the service albeit by containership is introduced this summer. In addition the islands first airport has faced delays and has yet to open, however this will see an extension of these voyages scheduled to September.

The ‘RMS’ as she is simply and fondly called by St. Helenian’s of the volcanic British Overseas Territory, is heavily depended on the role of this ship. As for more than a quarter century the 105m long vessel with a capacity for 1,800 tonnes of cargo, has provided the only sea connection with the outside world, however this unique ‘liner’ service is to be withdrawn as referred above.

The rare call to London had involved a northbound voyage from the island when passengers disembarked from Tilbury earlier this month. This was followed by a first ever trip upriver to the Pool of London (her port of registry) last week.

At this iconic stretch of the Thames, several high-profile events were held to commemorate RMS St. Helena’s career, notably by a visit of Princess Anne, who took the UK-St. Helena voyage in 2002. In more recent years, RMS St. Helena has concentrated on her current South African voyages that have clocked up more than 87,000 nautical miles annually and that includes routine calls to Ascension Island.

This final departure this evening from the UK is voyage no. 243 and this highlights all those previous voyages since her career began in 1990 initially sailing from Cardiff. The Welsh capital ceased as a port of call due to redevelopment that posed restrictions on the tidal window. So the Scottish built vessel from Aberdeen, switched to the English south coast to Portland.

She is to be sold and as mentioned replaced by a German containership to be named M.V. St Helena, though given the type and size of vessel only up to 10 persons will be accommodated.

In the meantime, the islanders or ‘Saint’s and that of tourists await the opening of the first island airport that was due to have opened last month. Due to operational issues, commercial flights connecting with South Africa have been deferred until clearance is given. So the RMS will continue for now to maintain her valued and important island life-line role.

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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