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New Freight-Only St. Helena Service Finally Begins Operations

10th March 2018
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Cargoship MV Helena with the dramatic backdrop of the mountainous coast of St. Helena Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean. Helena is seen docked in Ropert's Bay on the first day of arrival (7 March) following a delayed debut on the new freight service from South Africa. Cargoship MV Helena with the dramatic backdrop of the mountainous coast of St. Helena Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean. Helena is seen docked in Ropert's Bay on the first day of arrival (7 March) following a delayed debut on the new freight service from South Africa. Photo: St. Helena News facebook

#Ports&Shipping - Following the final RMS St. Helena sailing linking the UK overseas territory of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean with the outside world, a replacement freight-only service has finally begun, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The lo-lo containership MV Helena arrived to Ropert's Bay, St Helena on Wednesday (from Cape Town, South Africa) on almost the same route of the last 'working' Royal Mail Ship, RMS St. Helena. The passenger-cargoship affectionally known as the 'RMS' during a near three-decade career called to Jamestown Bay, the waters off the island's capital Jamestown.

AW Ship Management Limited based in London (see related story) were agents for the 'RMS' service through St. Helena Line, is now replaced with their new cargo operation, St Helena Shipping Line. The Gibraltar flagged containership MV Helena (1998/3,862grt) will make a monthly call at St Helena over a twelve-month period with four calls to Ascension.

This weeks first call by MV Helena at Rupert’s Bay breakwater was as Afloat had previously reported was orignally scheduled to have begun on 21 February. The former Dutch flagged ship (Eemslift Christiaan) maiden commercial voyage No. 1 was forced to wait service this month.

It transpires the reason for the delay was caused due to the late arrival of another operator, MOL Lines UK-South Africa transhipment service. This involved containership Maersk Lanco berth late in Cape Town on 26 February (following additonal delays in Port Elizabeth), before cargo could be finally offloaded and transferred on board MV Helena.

Arising from this delay and also to operations before RMS St. Helena went off service, AWSM commented at the end of month, that they have held a frank meeting with representatives of MOL to make clear the effects that such delays have to the Island, and to express AWSM’s displeasure at the recent lack of service. MOL have been clearly informed that until they can demonstrate an improvement in reliability, AWSM will be utilising more MSC services to Cape Town, unless there is no alternative.

MV Helena's berth in Ropert's Bay is located to the east of Jamestown Bay, where for almost the past three decades the RMS had anchored. This involved passengers transferred by tender and cargo taken on lighters to and from Jamestown, the capital of the island's 4,000 residents or  'Saints' - belong to one of the most remote, inhabited islands in the world.

The opening of the islands first airport last year with commercial flights to South Africa, put an end to sea-transportation but launched new tourism opportunities. Beforehand, there was a dependency placed upon the RMS that served as an 'life-line' providing a vital transport link and bringing essential supplies.

When the Scottish built ship completed in 1990 replaced a previous passenger-cargoship, RMS St. Helena first operated a UK-St. Helena service via the Canaries. The re-routing out of South Africa however considerably reducing the ocean voyage, albeit still taking five days passage time compared to the five hours flying time now available.

As for the inaugural cargoship voyage by MV Helena, this took the scheduled 7 days to complete. Likewise of the 'RMS' the cargoship will take in Ascension Island based on 11-days sailing schedule.

The berthing in Ropert's Bay of MV Helena according to the operator went smoothly with good communications between ship and shore thanks to Captain Sarvilin and crew. In addition to the shore-team from agents, Solomon & Co and the St Helena Harbourmaster’s office. Cargo operations were estimated to take 3-4 days, depending on local sea conditions at the berth.

The new service is suitable for dry break-bulk, capacity to handle 364 TEU’s of which 25 can be reefers (i.e. refrigerated containers for perishable goods). Out-of-gauge consignments up to approximately 80 tonnes total weight, though there are lifting restrictions for heavy cargo.

Personal and household goods, vehicles and pets can be carried for those relocating to St Helena or Ascension.

It should be noted that MV Helena has visited the island before on a occasional basis for the St. Helena Airport Project. Such calls had also involved those in Ropert's Bay but before the breakwater was completed, so echoing the logistical operations required by 'RMS' when offshore in Jamestown Bay.

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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