The RMS St Helena will continue to serve its remote South Atlantic island namesake until July 1 next year to allow for the resolution of operational snags currently bedevilling the commencement of commercial flights to St Helena.
As the world’s last working Royal Mail ship, the vessel has been the island’s only link to the world for the past 26 years. It was due to retire this month, following completion of an international airport on the island.
However, commercial flights had to be postponed due to wind problems identified during implementation flights by Comair, which has been contracted to provide a weekly scheduled service from Johannesburg using a new B737-800.
Having been given a year’s grace, more people will now be able to experience the RMS St Helena, says St Helena Tourism Marketing Manager, Chanelle Marais. She says tour operators are reporting healthy demand and berths are expected to fill up fast.
Expanding the service will also assist during the upcoming summer season when the island’s population swells by 25% as many ‘Saints’ working abroad return home for the holidays.
Last month, the RMS St Helena conducted a farewell cruise to London where it sailed up the Thames. It was expected back at St Helena on July 23.
Meanwhile, international experts are investigating how to mitigate the wind problems at the airport. St Helena Government Airport Project Director, Janet Lawrence, says Comair’s B737-800 experienced wind-shear and tail winds on a northern approach, while landing from a southern approach would necessitate weight restriction (fewer passengers), making it commercially unfeasible.
Alternative aircraft types – such as the Embraer E190, B737-700 or A319 – are now being considered in discussions with Comair and other airlines. Meanwhile, the airport is open for charters and medical evacuations.
RMS St Helena is a cargo liner (carrying cargo and passengers) that serves the British overseas territory of Saint Helena. She sails between Cape Town and Saint Helena with regular shuttles continuing to Ascension Island.
Some voyages also serve Walvis Bay en route to/from, or occasionally instead of, Cape Town. She visited Portland, Dorset twice a year with normal calls in the Spanish ports of Vigo (Northbound) and Tenerife (Southbound) until 14 October 2011, when she set sail on her final voyage from the English port. She is one of only four ships in the world still carrying the status of Royal Mail Ship.