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Read articles about St Helena

Articles about St Helena

Wear the old coat and buy the new book.
Austin Phelps

Read how St Helena has been reported in the world’s media

St Helena is one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands, but despite that it occasionally manages to feature in main-stream news. The following are news items featuring St Helena. Unless stated otherwise they are reproduced{1} in full and unedited, even where they contain errors. These are the most recent items; older items are here. If you want to read about how St Helena has been mis-reported, see our Do they mean us? page.

Our Library, next to Castle Gardens in Jamestown
Our Library, next to Castle Gardens in Jamestown

Please note that this does not claim to be a comprehensive or exhaustive list of everything ever published about St Helena. That would be a massive task and would require a government grant to complete the work{2}. This selection represents items that a) came to our attention; and b) interested us enough for us to transcribe them. If you have published something about St Helena and it isn’t included here you might want to contact us and tell us about it.

Below: Geographic absurdity • Introducing Jonathan, the world’s oldest animal on land at 187 years old • Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island • Saint Helena has held its first ever same-sex wedding • Expats from ‘Swindolena’ to gather for sports day this weekend • Remote St Helena Airport shrugs off ‘World’s Most Useless’ tag • St Helena’s cherished lifeline ship to return as anti-piracy armoury • New British postage labels feature ships that have carried the mail • End of an era as RMS St Helena makes final voyage from Cape Town • St Helena: The island where everyone knows your name • UN World Book Day • Read More

St Helena books from Miles Apart:

Looking for St Helena books? Miles Apart - new and second-hand books on the South Atlantic Islands current list.{3}

A geographic absurdity

By Mike MacEacheran, published in the Otago Daily Times Online News, 3rd September 2019{1}

A view of St Helenas tropical landscape
A view of St Helena’s tropical landscape

Big fish, cloud forests and spectacular food make the wildly remote St Helena worth the journey, writes Mike MacEacheran.

Something is circling our boat in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. We are off the coast of Flagstaff Bay, sailing in slow motion on glassy-calm water, and a frenzy of dorsals and dual-lobbed fins have appeared as if in pursuit.

It’s quite something to see a whale shark the size of a school bus in the water and quite another to see a dozen of them, then put on a snorkel and plunge straight in as if you are bait.

Don’t forget to breathe, says Keith Yon, our boat captain for the day. They’re so much bigger and scarier when you’re in the water. In a nice way, of course.

Admittedly, shark-infested waters are not for everyone. But the comings and goings off St Helena’s shores make it a Shangri-La for nature lovers. This season, Keith has chalked up a few hundred sightings, including an intense encounter with 27 whoppers. Indeed, when it comes to raw spectacle, the far-flung British territory soundly beats the Galapagos and the Maldives, plus you won’t find the vulgar chaos of tourist boats crowding the water here. The dark blue sea is so empty - so vast and infinite - you sense it is cloaked in something almost magical.

Swimming with whale sharks is not for everyone
Swimming with whale sharks is not for everyone

Unsurprisingly, visitor numbers are on the rise in St Helena, and the island is on the cusp of becoming more popular. New connecting flights to the island from Cape Town launch in December (in addition to those from Johannesburg) making it increasingly accessible for travellers. The island’s nearest neighbours are 2400km away to the south in Tristan da Cunha, and beyond that is the Antarctic. Living this far from anywhere makes the inhabitants - or Saints - friendly and familiar.

If one place sums up the geographic absurdity of St Helena, it’s Jamestown, the island’s economic and social nexus. The town is caught in a tight embrace at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, surrounded by layers of volcanic ash and a rugged fringe of sun-seared coastline. There are pastel-toned houses, towering palm trees and colonial relics - stark reminders of imperialist ideals and slavery. All are echoes of the East India Company, which settled the island in 1659.

Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, is situated in a steep valley on the islands western side
Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, is situated in a steep valley on the island’s western side

Go into any of the island’s satellite towns and there’s plenty more history to discover: from time-stopped 19th-century Longwood House, where Napoleon was exiled after Waterloo, to Plantation House, the residence of the governor and home to Jonathan, the 187-year-old giant tortoise who tootles about on the front lawn. You can also appreciate Edmund Halley, who built an observatory among the wispy flax grass of Diana’s Peak, St Helena’s sugar loaf mountain, and applaud Charles Darwin, who came to catalogue endemic birds and insects.

I’m staying at the Consulate Hotel, in a scruffily chic room.

The hotel is ideally placed for exploring the island’s easily accessible nooks and crannies. At its southwest tip, there is the black sand curve of Sandy Bay, while a bumpy Land Rover hunt for the endemic wire bird at Cox’s Battery reveals a mix of cloud forests and farmland that wouldn’t look out of place in Norfolk. Every so often, there is a sense of the familiar, but also fleeting volcanic panoramas that could make it the Congo. If you need any indication of how St Helena is changing, then you can visit Welsh expat Paul Hickling for a £5 ($NZ9.60) tasting at the world’s remotest distillery, discreetly tacked on to the back of his house. After a quick nose around, I’m game to try his White Lion rum, nicknamed gunpowder in a glass, followed by a shot of prickly pear Tungi spirit, a teeth-scraping moonshine.

Elsewhere, the food is just as intensely memorable. Inside the former stables of Anne’s Place in Jamestown - all shipwreck chic and masthead flags - the specials are wedges of wahoo and tuna, battered golden or grilled, for £8 ($15.50). On a nearby hilltop house, after a cooking lesson with Derek and Linda Richards at their homestay, I gorge on a lifetime’s-best platter of fishcakes made with squidgy tuna belly and thick cuts of red chilli.

The food is a triumphant if curious blend of British, Creole and African, and what accompanies it is a sweet black pudding, stuffed with rice rather than grain, followed by exquisite home-grown coffee made with green-tipped Bourbon Arabica. As if to emphasise this wildly remote island of extremes, I take a final boat trip on my last morning and within five minutes the ocean swarms with hundreds of pan-tropical dolphins. They bask in our wake, then begin popping out one by one like corks.

Along with its stunning wildlife, the allure of St Helena is its scale - you can see all the sights on this island very easily, and still have time to kick back, relax and experience life at a different pace on this wildly remote gem at the end of the world.

See also: Visitor Information • Where is St Helena? • Whale Sharks • Fishcakes, and other food • Jamestown

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Introducing Jonathan, the world’s oldest animal on land at 187 years old

By Adam Millward, Guinness World Records, 27th February 2019{1}

Guinness World Records

Born circa 1832 - five years prior to the coronation of Queen Victoria - Jonathan the tortoise is due to turn 187 years old in 2019. That makes him the oldest-known land animal alive today.

Jonathan the tortoise pictured in February 2019
Jonathan the tortoise pictured in February 2019

This puts him just one year away from the title of oldest chelonian ever, currently held by Tu’i Malila, a radiated tortoise that reached at least 188 years old. She was owned by the royal family of Tonga between c. 1777 and 1965, and had been presented to them by British explorer Captain James Cook during his third - and final - Pacific voyage (1776-80).

In his lifetime, Jonathan has lived through two world wars, the French Revolution, seven monarchs on the British throne and 39 US presidents.

A photo dated to c. 1882-86 taken in the grounds of Plantation on St Helena - shortly after Jonathan arrived on the island (Jonathan is shown on the left)
A photo dated to c. 1882-86 taken in the grounds of Plantation on St Helena - shortly after Jonathan arrived on the island (Jonathan is shown on the left)

His estimated year of birth also predates the release of the Penny Black, the first postage stamp (1840), the building of the first skyscraper (1885) and the completion of the Eiffel Tower (1887) - the tallest iron structure.

Other human milestones to have taken place in his long life include the first photograph of a person (1838), the first incandescent light bulb (1878) and the first powered flight (1903).

Now the oldest animal in the world - among terrestrial animals - Jonathan has outlived the oldest person ever by around 65 years. The greatest authenticated age for a human is a ‘mere’ 122 years 144 days, achieved by Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) from France.

Jonathan pictured with St Helenian Maxina Yon, holding a copy of the island's Sentinel newspaper dated 21 Feb 2019
Jonathan pictured with St Helenian Maxina Yon, holding a copy of the island's Sentinel newspaper dated 21 Feb 2019

Although originating from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, Jonathan has resided on the remote island of St Helena in the South Atlantic since 1882.

St Helena is perhaps best known for being the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte - who was exiled here after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The banished emperor and Jonathan would never have met, though, as the former died more than six decades prior to the arrival of this record-breaking reptile.

When Jonathan was brought to St Helena, he was already fully grown. Based on known data for this species, that would indicate he was about 50 years of age at the time (hence his estimated birth year of 1832 to make him the longest-lived animal on land). Jonathan was gifted to the then-governor of the Overseas British territory, William Grey-Wilson (in office 1890-97), and he has lived at the governor’s residence ever since.

Jonathan's home is the manicured lawns of ‘Plantation’, a Georgian mansion built by the East India Company in 1791-92. Today, he shares the grounds with three other giant tortoises: David, Emma and Fred.

Jonathan in front of Plantation, the governor's residence
Jonathan in front of Plantation, the governor's residence

For a long time, Jonathan was identified as an Aldabran tortoise from the Aldabra Atoll, which forms part of the Seychelles archipelago. (All the other tortoises he lives with are Aldabrans.) However, a closer examination of his shell by the Seychelles Nature Trust (and several other zoological professionals) has raised the distinct possibility that he could be a much-rarer Seychelles giant tortoise.

This particular species (some argue ‘subspecies’ or ‘morphotype’ is more accurate) was once believed to be extinct, but there now may be around 80 globally, according to the IUCN’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group.

Considering his great age - he is already well beyond his kind’s 150-year average lifespan - Jonathan is in surprisingly good health. He hasn’t escaped completely unscathed, though.

The world's oldest tortoise is virtually blind due to cataracts and seems to have lost all sense of smell, but retains excellent hearing and a healthy appetite. According to his vet (see interview below), he still has a good libido too, which is an indicator of sound internal health.

Vet Joe Hollins tells us that he and crusty old reptile Jonathan have formed a close bond over the years
Vet Joe Hollins tells us that he and crusty old reptile Jonathan have formed a close bond over the years

We talked to St Helena vet Joe Hollins - one of Jonathan’s primary carers - to find out more about this extraordinary ancient animal.

GWR: What’s it like treating such an old patient?

Joe Hollins: Although aware of the responsibility and that, of course, he will die one day, I believe we have greatly enhanced his life expectancy. Like any celebrity we have made advance plans for his demise, but hope not to put them into action yet. At an estimated 187 years of age, he has already far exceeded his life expectancy of 150 years.

GWR: How does it feel to have such a close relationship with a record-breaking animal?

Joe Hollins: For a veterinary surgeon, to have the oldest-known living land animal under his care is a great privilege, and something I could never have envisaged happening. I have bonded with him and am very fond of the crusty old reptile!

GWR: Can you describe Jonathan’s temperament?

Joe Hollins: As befits his age, Jonathan is gentle and enjoys the company of people. Although mostly blind due to cataracts, he has very good hearing and responds especially to his name at feeding time. He also has a fascination with the sounds of tennis when the paddock court is in use.

GWR: Does Jonathan have a mate?

Joe Hollins: In spite of his age, Jonathan still has good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred - animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive!

Among Jonathans favourite snacks are lettuce hearts, cucumbers, apples and bananas
Among Jonathan’s favourite snacks are lettuce hearts, cucumbers, apples and bananas

GWR: What is Jonathan’s favourite food? Have his tastes changed as he ages?

Joe Hollins: Some 10 years ago, improvements were made to Jonathan’s habitat and it was noticed that he [was having problems feeding]. His beak was blunt so that he struggled to scythe the grass (other tortoises have finely grooved beaks resulting in a serrated edge that cuts grass), and he would often try to graze on areas of leaf mould or dirt. His sense of smell seems to be non-existent. We introduced once-weekly feeding of good calorific food and this has transformed him, demonstrating probable micro-deficiencies of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. He loves banana, but it tends to gum up his mouth. Lettuce hearts, though not very nutritious, are a favourite. He also greatly enjoys cabbage, cucumber, apple, other seasonal fruits, carrots - a good source of dietary fibre that he loves - and any other offerings from Plantation, which provides feed from the kitchens. Nothing is fed to excess but in moderation and in a balanced mixture. Since doing this, his beak has regained an edge and he is able to graze once more.

GWR: What does a typical day involve for Jonathan?

Joe Hollins: Very relaxed. He enjoys the sun but on very hot days takes to the shade. On mild days, he will sunbathe - his long neck and legs stretched fully out of his shell to absorb heat and transfer it to his core. It’s an odd posture and before now we have had panicked phone calls to say he appeared to have died! On cold winter days, he will dig himself into leaf mould or grass clippings and remain there all day.

GWR: What do the residents of St Helena think of Jonathan?

Joe Hollins: He is a local icon, symbolic of persistence in the face of change, and much loved by the islanders, who see him very much as their Jonathan.

GWR: Are visitors able to come and see Jonathan?

Joe Hollins: Although we have applied some restrictions (unfortunately due to mobbing and inappropriate behaviour by cruise-ship tours), Jonathan and his friends can still be seen by visitors to the island.

Our Comment: We are pleased that Guinness World Records is satisfied with the evidence provided of Jonathan’s age.

See also: Jonathan the tortoise • National Symbols • Plantation House

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Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

By James Bainbridge, Round Trip Foundation, 17th February 2019{1}

Following the opening of St Helena Airport, the remote island is looking for ways to boost its economy through sustainable tourism.

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

The great primeval bulk of the Barn, part of the rocky coastline of this island formed by volcanic eruptions, towers above the crashing waves as the 100-seat aircraft shakily approaches St Helena Airport. It’s quite an entrance to one of the world’s remotest islands, located about a third of the way across the South Atlantic from Southern Africa to Brazil and accessible, since 2017, by weekly Airlink flights from Johannesburg. St Helena is so remote that the flight here takes six hours, as opposed to four hours on the way back, because the plane has to refuel in Windhoek before it crosses Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and the open sea: if the small Embraer aircraft is unable to land at the island’s wind-shear-prone airport, it needs enough reserve fuel to make it back to mainland Africa.

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

The sheer remoteness of this British Overseas Territory once inspired the Brits to banish Napoleon Bonaparte to the island’s green hinterland, where he died after five years in exile. Around 6000 Boers and a party of troublesome Zulus would also spend several years here, in a history that saw 1000 ships dock annually during the island’s heyday as an English East India Company outpost, before its fortunes declined when trade routes shifted north with the opening of the Suez Canal. Today, tourism is a key plank in the island’s economic development plan for the next decade, but transforming the sector into a healthy and sustainable industry faces challenges.

Firstly, there is the inevitable issue of access. The announcement of weekly flights, following the controversial airport’s construction, was welcomed by Saints, as the 4500 islanders are known. There are also extra flights around Christmas, partly catering to the many Saints, who work in Ascension Island, the Falklands, the UK and beyond; a great leap forward from the five-night ocean crossing from Cape Town, even if Saints wax nostalgic about the RMS St Helena.

That said, the Embraer’s limited capacity is restrictive and, more significantly, so is the cost of flights, coming in at around £800 return from Johannesburg. Considering the wonderful Southern African destinations that can be reached for less from Johannesburg, including well-established tourism destinations from Cape Town to the Okavango Delta, it is unsurprising that planes to St Helena are rarely full. There is also the risk of not being able to land at the island’s windy airport, which could lead to a long wait in the Johannesburg Holiday Inn. A good illustration of these factors was the Fox family whom I met on the plane, six brothers and sisters who had emigrated to South Africa as children and were finally returning, 60 years later. They could no more afford to fly than they could face the sea crossing, and were finally visiting their birthplace thanks to a special on flights.

So how does St Helena build its brand and compete with the stiff tourism competition? Already, many Saints are frustrated that the airport has not provided the hoped-for boost to the island’s economy, which remains reliant on the UK, and tourism businesses receive low footfall. The island does, however, have strong appeal, both to adventurous seekers of a bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime experience of this remote British outpost and to niche markets. The Napoleon connection is a marketer’s dream, with sights including the French-owned Longwood House, where the Emperor spent his days drinking sweet wine and dictating his memoirs, his tomb (now empty) and his first residence on the island, Briars Pavilion. I met several French tour operators on a recce and one already specialising in St Helena, while St Helena Distillery, the world’s remotest distillery, is making a brandy to mark the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death, which is set to attract French pilgrim-tourists in 2021. Producing spiced rum, coffee liqueur, gin from the local juniper and schnapps-like Tungi from the island’s prickly pears, the distillery opened in advance of the airport and benefits from both souvenir hunters and local consumption. (In the bars of maritime Jamestown, the Shipwreck, a mixture of spiced rum and Coke, has long been a Saint favourite, while beer drinkers generally choose between South African and Namibian lagers.)

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

In terms of niche tourism, the rich marine life and shipwrecks attract locally run boat, snorkel and dive excursions; St Helena is one of the best places to swim with magnificent whale sharks, the world’s biggest shark. There is also an 18-hole golf course and resort in the pipeline, but its slated development in the island’s pristine heartland has angered some locals and, as a bleak report on St Helena by British mogul Lord Ashcroft notes, the developer recently changed hands. For me, there was major appeal in the fascinating history of this 120-sq-km island, the quirks of life here and the friendly Saints themselves. In the era of Trump, BREXIT and terrorism, when the number of Brits and Americans emigrating to sleepy New Zealand has doubled, St Helena offers a safe and old-fashioned village atmosphere, where everyone knows each other (literally) and motorists unfailingly wave at passing cars. The mixed-race Saints trace their roots back to the settlers, soldiers and slaves who arrived across the ocean, including British sailors, African slaves, Chinese and Indian workers and Boer prisoners; not unlike South Africa’s ‘coloured’ population, whose mixed genealogy includes the slaves and Islamic dissidents brought from the East Indies by the Dutch East India Company.

Unlike South Africa, St Helena’s is an uncommonly non-racial and colour-blind society, but the comparison between the two carries through to language. Like Afrikaans, a creolisation of Dutch by the ancestors of today’s coloured people, the thickly accented, rapid-fire, slang-peppered English spoken by Saints is the unique legacy of the diverse people brought by the Trade Winds. Somehow managing to simultaneously echo Cornish, Irish, American and Australian lingo, the best description I heard of the Saints dialect was ‘like a cross between Yoda and a pirate’.

With this sociological interest in mind, the historical Magma Way tours run by Basil and Kevin George were fascinating, not just to see the sights but to hear their anecdotes of island life. Showing us Jamestown’s vertiginous 699-step Jacob’s Ladder, built in 1829 to haul up manure and send goods down, 82-year-old Basil demonstrated the technique he developed for sliding down the railings on his way home from school. The many historical sights range from capital-in-a-canyon Jamestown and the imposing 19th-century High Knoll Fort to the Boer Cemetery and the white stones in Ruperts Valley, a memorial to the slaves once buried in unmarked graves.

Sustainable Tourism and a Remote Island

Culturally, tourism can help Saints to preserve their traditions - a concern for some with young people leaving in search of work while the airport, not to mention the forces of globalisation, brings in outsiders. Given the island’s small population, an influx of even just a few hundred people could have a profound impact; South Africa comes to mind with its high rates of crime and emigration, and one family on my flight was a case in point. Answering this issue was the hands-on cooking experience at Richards Travel Lodge, where Linda Richards taught us how to make island specialities including spicy fishcakes and Plo, a kind of curried paella.

Similarly, conservation of the island’s endemic flora and fauna, which most famously includes the plover, known locally as the Wirebird, has to contend with centuries of alien species. Notable incomers include African succulents, the termites that reduced Jamestown to dust in the 19th century and, most recently, the elusive simian-feline ‘Monk-Cat’, thought to be a civet that hopped off a boat from Namibia. There is now the 32-acre Millennium Forest Project to re-establish rare endemic gumwoods, while my walks with St Helena National Trust guides to Blue Point and Diana’s Peak (823m), the island’s highest point, were scenic highlights. The walks are two of the 21 Post Box Walks that explore this tropical island’s striking mix of barren, semi-desert coastline and pastoral interior, with its lanes winding between emerald hills and along windblown ridges like a chunk of Cornwall that went to sea. With more affordable air access - perhaps provided by competition on the route from Johannesburg and the option of flying straight from Windhoek - and continued marketing of St Helena’s considerable appeal, tourism can build on its positive contribution to St Helena’s economy, culture and conservation.


Based in Cape Town, James Bainbridge is the senior author of the Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Berlitz guides to South Africa and Cape Town. Magazine and TV assignments have taken him across Africa from the beaches of the Cape Peninsula to the heights of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, with plenty of stops in parks and reserves along the way. James runs travel writing day courses around South Africa, and works as a journalist, copywriter and copyeditor when he’s not on the road. Visit his website to find out more, and follow him on Instagram @james_bains and Twitter @jamesbains.

See also: Visitor Information • Getting Here

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Saint Helena has held its first ever same-sex wedding

By Josh Jackman, Pink News Daily LGBT+ Newsletter, 7th January 2019{1}

Michael Wernstedt and Lemarc Thomas, who got married in Saint Helena in 2018, smile at the camera
Saint Helena couple Michael Wernstedt and Lemarc Thomas made history in December
Saint Helena couple Michael Wernstedt and Lemarc Thomas made history in December

Swedish national Michael Wernstedt tied the knot with native citizen Lemarc Thomas in a beautiful ceremony on December 31 2018. The event came just over a year since Governor Lisa Phillips signed marriage equality into law on December 20 2017.

Registrar Karen Yon oversaw the historic gay wedding on the tiny British territory, which is home to 4,500 people and sits in the South Atlantic Ocean island some 1,000 miles from South America and Africa. The ceremony ended with the new husbands running across the gardens at the scenic Plantation House as they were showered with pink flowers.

How was same-sex marriage legalised in Saint Helena?

In December 2017, the territory’s Legislative Council approved marriage equality by nine votes to two. As a result, the British Overseas Territory, which hit the headlines when its tortoise Jonathan - the oldest in the world at 186 - was discovered to be gay in October 2017, wrote into The Marriage Ordinance 2017 that ‘marriage’ includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.

But, despite including the provision that ministers were not compelled to marry same-sex couples if doing so conflicted with their religion, the legislation was met with opposition from two representatives. One of the two councillors to vote against the bill, Cyril Leo, warned it would cause a deep divide on the island, which measures just 10 by five miles. He said he was afraid of the negative reaction from homophobic elements, but bowed to the majority’s decision.

The island’s Attorney General, Angelo Berbotto, told Pink News at the time: St Helena has finally voted for same-sex marriage. Now there is equality on this little British Overseas Territory.

Kylie Hercules, a representative who supported the Marriage Bill, said simply: We are dealing with people’s lives and emotions.

Christine Scipio-O’Dean, who voted in favour of the bill, agreed that it was time for the island to accept all its citizens. We cannot discriminate, she said. We must not, and we must strive to ensure equality.

Representative Lawson Henry said the island’s constitution called for equality, which its legislative council could finally deliver for LGBT people. It is simply about equality, he said. If this house cannot uphold the constitution then why are we here today, and why do we have a constitution? This bill has never been about religion, it is about equality and protection of minority groups.

OUR COMMENT: Credit should be given to the island’s Equality & Human Rights Commission who worked hard to ensure the Marriage bill was passed, as did Lemarc and Michael themselves.

See also: Get Married Here

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St Helena expats from ‘Swindolena’ to gather for sports day this weekend

By Daniel Angelini, Swindon Advertiser, 24th August 2018{1}

DID you know that Swindon is known as ‘Swindolena’ to St Helena expats?

St Helena
St Helena

The town is known to residents of the remote island by this nickname because of its large community of expats, known as Saints, from that island. St Helena, located in the South Atlantic, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and its current population is around 4,300 people. The UK’s largest gathering of St Helena expats takes place over this Bank Holiday weekend on Saturday and Sunday in Reading this weekend. Saints from across the country will gather at Reading Abbey Rugby Football Club for a weekend of fun activities at the annual St Helena Sport Day. The event has been taking place in Reading for nearly 40 years and is organised by the charitable St Helena Association. To find out more, visit sthelenasportsday.com{4}.

See also: Reading Sports • Sport in St Helena

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Remote St Helena Airport shrugs off ‘World’s Most Useless’ tag

By Andreas Spaeth, Airline Ratings, 27th April 2018{1}

The E190 at St Helena
The E190 at St Helena

The airport on the remote British Overseas Territory island St Helena, once dismissed as the world’s most useless airport by British media, is proving to be a reliable asset.

The airport, built for 285m British Pounds ($A521m) in taxpayer’s money, opened on the South Atlantic island in June 2016 but it took another year from it to be certified to receive commercial passenger jets.

The originally planned Boeing 737-800 flights by Comair (flying as a British Airways franchise) from Johannesburg didn’t materialize after severe wind shear was detected on the first test flight in April, 2016.

In October 2017, after another bidding process was won by private South African regional carrier Airlink, regularly scheduled flights to one of the most far-away places on the globe started with one weekly flight from Johannesburg with a fuel stop in Windhoek/Namibia.

The airline now utilizes its two factory-fresh Embraer E190ARs with increased gross weight and extra thrust.

Official statistics by the St Helena government show that from October 2016 to February 2018 a total of 1,417 passengers arrived on the Airlink flights and 1,386 departed. And that was while the sole former link to the outside world, the mail ship RMS St Helena needing five days one way to reach Cape Town, was finally decommissioned only in February, 2018.

Overall, operations have been unexpectedly smooth and on-time on average, with just one flight having had to be postponed and rescheduled due to weather in the first half year of operations.

Between the airport’s opening in June 2016 and March 21, 2018, there were a total of 81 aircraft movements carrying 3,376 passengers, among them 16 medevac flights operated exclusively by Guardian Air out of Lanseria airport near Johannesburg.

The demand for seats has exceeded expectations, Airlink CEO Rodger Foster told airlineratings.com.

St Helena Airport
St Helena Airport

The Saints, as the 4,300 islanders call themselves, desperately hope for more than just one weekly service. There are hints this might happen later in 2018 as South African and Namibian authorities negotiate on issues related to routing and fifth freedom rights.

But these seem tiny issues compared to connecting one of the world’s most remote islands to international aviation, a major milestone in St Helena’s history, an island famous for being the place in which exiled French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to live the last years of his life from 1815 to his death in 1821.

The closest land is neighbouring Ascension Island, occupied solely by a military air base, 1,131km to the northwest, and also a British Overseas Territory. To reach the next continent, Africa, one needs to travel 1,950km to the east to reach the city of Namib in Angola. Turning west it takes 2,900km to get to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.

The extreme location and the current low passenger market volume, as St Helena tries to build up a tourism industry and hopes for tens of thousands of visitors per year in the future, makes it difficult to make commercial flights economically viable.

Balancing the economics of these flights is a serious challenge as due to its remoteness and the concomitant logistics issues, fuel at the island is extremely expensive, as are all other aspects of aircraft handling due mainly to the very low passenger traffic volume, says Foster.

One major criticism involves ticket prices, which start at 804 pounds (AUD 1,470) return in economy. These are not discounted for Saints, making the journey by air unaffordable for a populace earning an average annual income of just 8,000 pounds.

The UK government underwrites the air service, St Helena governor Lisa Honan tells airlineratings.com. If the average load factor drops below 48 passengers per flight, the UK government will pay for the losses.

Initially only up to 76 of the 98 seats were sold, with two extra ones occupied by Airlink maintenance mechanics monitoring the aircraft en route and on the ground.

Now, thanks to two aircraft with enhanced engines, 87 seats can be sold.

In December 2017 Airlink got its first leased E190AR aircraft, equipped with CF34-10E6 engines instead of the E5 variant. This offers thrust increased by 1,000lbf to a total of 21,000lbf per engine.

The additional performance offers an advantage in hot and high situations such as prevalent on departure from Windhoek at 5,640ft/1,719m of altitude for St Helena, explains the CEO. The ambient temperatures at Windhoek during summer can be high, often more than 35°C and the E6 engines will enable an increase in payload by approximately 1,200kgs, which is of material benefit especially in terms of revenue opportunity.

When airlineratings.com took flight SA8131, the one-hour refuelling stop in Windhoek is used to fill the two tanks almost to capacity, giving Captain Johann Du Toit 13 tons of fuel.

That is enough for an endurance of six hours, taking us to St Helena, do several approaches and if need be continue on to Ascension as our alternate airport including extra provisions, Du Toit points out. Though a point of no return (PNR) is calculated over the ocean, it’s more academic than of practical importance. It’s done to ensure ETOPS doesn’t live up to its nickname: Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim.

On Approach
On Approach

About three hours after taking off from Windhoek, the approach into St Helena’s main runway 20 starts. Captain Du Toit announces he might have to go around.

This is apparently his reading of wind shear warnings in the cockpit, and enough for some fearful flyers to cover their faces in terror. Then the routine announcement on these flights is made by the flight attendant:

Approaches to St Helena can experience turbulence, please make sure your seat belts are fastened tightly.

Only minutes before touchdown, the island, a tiny rocky pancake of land becomes visible in the endless Atlantic.

On the two-mile final for runway 20 aircraft are usually hit by swirling updrafts while battling crosswinds. Today, a short moment of light turbulence occurs, followed by a very smooth landing without any hitch.

This is because just after the threshold, having been relocated 280m down the runway and leaving a Landing Distance Available (LDA) of 1,550m, the wind dies down, due to the shelter the King and Queen pinnacles on the left provide.

After a flight time of 3:22 hours from Windhoek, another scheduled flight to this formerly almost inaccessible island has landed safely and on time. Proving again that the label as the world’s most useless airport is utter nonsense.

See also: Fly here

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St Helena’s cherished lifeline ship to return as anti-piracy armoury

By Joe Brock, www.reuters.com, 18th April 2018{1}

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The RMS St Helena, Britain’s last working postal ship, was for nearly three decades the main source of contact between one of humanity’s remotest islands and the outside world.

The second RMS St Helena lies berthed in Cape Town harbour, South Africa
The second RMS St Helena lies berthed in Cape Town harbour, South Africa

Now the ship, cherished by the 4,500 residents of British-ruled St. Helena, will start a new life as a floating armoury, packed with automatic weapons, bullet-proof jackets and night vision goggles, all stored for maritime security operatives.

Renamed the MNG Tahiti, the 340-foot ship will undergo some tweaks before sailing to the Gulf of Oman where it will be used to ferry guns and guards to passing vessels navigating stretches of water lurking with pirates, its new operator said on Tuesday.

The ship is good to go with a few adjustments, said Mark Gray, a former British Royal Marine and founder of floating armoury firm MNG Maritime. By the middle of the year we hope to have her operating.

Tahiti Shipping, a subsidiary of MNG Maritime, bought the ship for an undisclosed fee on Tuesday, the St. Helena government said in a statement.

The construction last year of a commercial airport on the isolated island in the middle of the South Atlantic rendered the 156-passenger ship obsolete, prompting St. Helena authorities to put it up for sale and begin planning a gala farewell.

Before weekly flights to South Africa began in October, a five-night voyage to Cape Town on the RMS St Helena was the only major transport route off an island made famous as the windswept outpost where French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died.

The yellow-funnelled ship was purpose-built by the British government in 1989 to service the island and is the last of a royal mail fleet that once connected the far-flung tentacles of the old British Empire.

Its final voyage was marked with a public holiday on St. Helena, with flag-waving crowds gathering on the rocky coastline to catch one last glimpse of the ship that had delivered them everything from car parts to Christmas turkeys.

A flotilla of fishing vessels and yachts flanked the ship with those on board popping champagne corks as plumes of balloons were released into the sky to cheers from St. Helena residents, known locally as ‘Saints’.

I fully appreciate the role this vessel has played in all ‘Saints’ lives, MNG Maritime’s Gray said. It is not a responsibility we take on lightly. We will continue to treat her in the manner to which she has become accustomed.

MNG Tahiti, 2018.
MNG Tahiti, 2018.{a}

See also: RMS St Helena

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New British postage labels feature ships that have carried the mail

By Denise McCarty, Linns’ Stamp News, 16th February 2018{1}

New post & go self-adhesive postage labels
Royal Mail issued new post & go self-adhesive postage labels Feb. 14th featuring six ships, representing the history of mail transportation by sea.

A generic New York City skyline of the 1930s is pictured on a new self-adhesive postage label from Great Britain’s Royal Mail. The label is part of a set of six designs focusing on the theme of mail by sea.

Issued Feb. 14th, Mail by Sea is the fourth set in the Royal Mail Heritage series with the theme of mail transportation. The previous three sets in the series were Transport (Feb. 17th, 2016), Mail by Rail (Feb. 15th, 2017), and Mail by Air (Sept. 13th, 2017).

Royal Mail calls such labels ‘post & go.’ The service inscriptions are printed at the time of purchase.

The label showing the New York City skyline honours RMS Queen Mary, which made its maiden voyage May 27th, 1936. In announcing the new post & go labels, Royal Mail said that with the advent of Queen Mary, mail could be transported from England to New York to less than four days.

This flagship of the Cunard Line transported more than the mail.

The website said: For three years after her maiden voyage, the Queen Mary was the grandest ocean liner in the world carrying Hollywood celebrities like Bob Hope and Clark Gable, royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and dignitaries like Winston Churchill. During this time she even set a new speed record, which she held for 14 years. But when the Queen Mary docked in New York in September 1939 that would be the last time she would carry civilian passengers for many years.

After serving as a troop ship during World War II, Queen Mary returned to passenger service in July 1947. Twenty years later, Queen Mary made its last voyage, arriving in Long Beach, Calif., Dec. 6th, 1967, where it remains as a floating hotel, attraction, and event and wedding venue.

The other five labels cover more than 200 years in sea mail history, from the packet Antelope in 1780 to RMS St Helena in 1990.

Antelope was captured twice by the French, in 1781 and 1782. In 1783, the packet’s crew successfully fought off the French privateer Atalanta. Among other awards, the crew were praised for the successful protection of the mail by postmaster general of the United Kingdom, Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl of Chesterfield.

RMS St Helena was designed and built to carry mail, cargo and passengers to and from the remote South Atlantic island after which she is named, according to Royal Mail.

The ship’s website reports: She is one of only two ocean-going vessels in the world still to carry the venerable title of Royal Mail Ship, held in the past by so many famous British passenger liners.

The site also describes the range of supplies the ship carries to St Helena as wind turbines to automotive parts; sheep, goats, and Christmas turkeys to furniture, food and paint.

The other three labels depict SS Great Western, 1838; SS Britannia, 1887; and RMS Olympic, 1911.

Designed by engineer Isambard Brunel, Great Western was the first steamship built for the purpose of crossing the Atlantic. In 1847, this steamship was sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.

The passenger liner Britannia set a record in November 1887 carrying the mail from Brindisi, Italy, to Adelaide, Australia, in 23 days and 10 hours.

The sister ship to RMS Titanic, RMS Olympic was the largest British-built passenger ship in regular service before the introduction of Queen Mary. Like the Titanic, Olympic included a dedicated post office and mail room.

Royal Mail Group Ltd. designed the labels, using illustrations by Andrew Davidson. International Security Printers printed them by gravure. Each label measures 56 millimetres by 25mm.

These postage labels are available from terminals in post office branches throughout the United Kingdom. The terminals allow customers to weigh their letters and packages, pay the postage, and print the appropriate label.

Royal Mail is offering a first-day cover franked with all six Mail by Sea labels. The labels also are packaged with a carrier card that includes additional information about the history of carrying mail by sea.

See also: RMS St Helena

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End of an era as RMS St Helena makes final voyage from Cape Town

Traveller 24, 25th January 2018{1}

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Pre-departure ceremony
Pre-departure ceremony
Sailing out
Sailing out

Cape Town - A British ship that was once a lifeline to the outside world for St Helena has begun its last voyage to the remote South Atlantic island where Napoleon died in exile.

The RMS St Helena on Wednesday, 24th January left the South African city of Cape Town on a final round-trip journey of three weeks to St. Helena and Ascension, another British-ruled island. After that, another ship will transport cargo about once a month to St Helena.

The only means of regular passenger travel will be by air, thanks to a South African airline that started a weekly commercial flight in October after the delayed opening of an airport.

Ship mechanic Lionel Peters says the ‘royal mail’ vessel, which sailed to St. Helena for nearly three decades, will be missed.

Cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, St Helena, which lies isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is now reachable by plane for the first time.

The aviation breakthrough has promises to lift the British-run territory from obscurity and bring it within reach of international tourists. The arrival of the first commercial flight in 2017 was also a relief for islanders frustrated by a delay to the opening because of high winds.

After years of procrastination, London gave the green light in 2011 a full runway on the island. The ambition was to bring it within six hours of mainland Africa instead of the five days previously needed to make the ocean voyage from Cape Town. British officials hoped that 30,000 tourists a year would visit the island, which is home to just 4,500 residents - known as ‘Saints’.

See also: RMS St Helena • Fly here • Visitor Information

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St Helena: The island where everyone knows your name

By Emma Thomson, ‘Stuff’, New Zealand, 29th December 2017{1}

Control tower and terminal buildings
The control tower and terminal buildings are seen from the window of a passenger plane as it takes off from St Helena airport
RMS St Helena
The RMS St Helena sails in the harbour in Jamestown
Napoleon’s Tomb
Napoleon’s Tomb lies in a clearing near Alarm Forest, Saint Helena. The French Emperor was exiled to the island before dying in 1821, with his body returning to France in 1840
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral in St Pauls, St Helena
Old graffiti
Old graffiti welcoming the RMS St Helena adorns a deserted World War II gun emplacements at the harbour
Jacob’s Ladder
A man poses for a photograph at the top of the 699-step Jacob’s Ladder
Travellers disembark
Travellers disembark the second scheduled passenger flight at St Helena airport in Prosperous Bay, Saint Helena
View of the harbour
A view of the harbour in Jamestown, Saint Helena

I’m going to break the first rule of travel writing and mention the view from the aircraft window. In this case, you see, it really is important. For four hours, cotton-ball clouds had been rolled out across an unbroken blanket of blue.

Cabin crew to seats, please, instructed the captain, his voice tight with nervous concentration.

Seated aboard only the second commercial flight to St Helena - one of the world’s most remote islands - I’m among the very first to see her like this.

For half a millennium she’s only ever been seen from the sea: an impenetrable ring of volcanic rock hunched against the restless Atlantic waves. Now I can glimpse her emerald interior of mist-laced, fern-filled forests. The only chink in her armour is a candy-coloured clutch of buildings squeezed into a 1000ft ravine - the capital, Jamestown.

The new airport - built at a cost of £285.5 million (NZ$541.3m) - was due to open last year, but suffered a series of setbacks while they solved the problem of wind shear - essentially updrafts of ocean wind that hit the rocks and churn upwards, pushing the plane down.

It was dubbed the world’s most useless airport, but that’s unfair. Parking on a pebble is downright tricky.

Only four pilots in the world are currently qualified to fly into St Helena, says Jaco Henning, the man who was responsible for landing the inaugural flight on October 14.

We’ve been training intensively since March.

Until now, if you wanted to reach St Helena it would have taken five nights sailing aboard the RMS St Helena from Cape Town - a seafaring tradition that hasn’t changed in more than 500 years, since the island was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502.

It is hoped the new airport will bring the chance of self-sufficiency to an island previously dependent on aid from DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development. Now I don’t have to wait three weeks for my next client, explained Aaron Legg, a fifth-generation ‘saint’ - as locals are known - who has combined 4x4 adventure tours with his family’s tradition of farming.

It will mean I can actually run a business.

Reversing his vehicle up an off-road track to an outcrop called Flagstaff, he suggested we get out and hike towards the peak. The trees were hunched over protectively against the ceaseless wind; beneath them sprang delicate yellow flowers.

Everlastings, said Aaron, gently cupping the petals. The seeds were sent over by Lady Holland to Napoleon [who was exiled here at Longwood House] and now they’re everywhere. St Helena is a melting pot of plants - hibiscus, bananas, flax - and people - Indians, Madagascans, Sri Lankans and Chinese - who have passed through here over the centuries.

What’s it like to live somewhere so isolated? I asked, staring out at the limitless ocean, its hazy lines melding with the sky until it feels as if you’re floating in blue orbit.

I was 18 years old when I saw an escalator for the first time. Ever seen the movie Crocodile Dundee? I was exactly like that! Can you imagine a young boy from Sandy Bay driving through Cape Town at rush hour? I’d never seen traffic lights before. I’d never seen a KFC or a Nando’s - I bought a sweet-chilli twister and went straight back for a second, he giggled, as we kept an eye out for the red flash of a Madagascan Fody, a tiny bird.

Now the airport gives me the freedom to travel, without taking too much time away from my business.

Isolation has crafted the island’s charm. The hurricane news cycles we’re exposed to daily don’t swirl here. Nothing is rushed. Clothes ordered online can take months to arrive and mobile phone coverage wasn’t rolled out until September 2015. Life isn’t dominated by screens. In the late afternoons, I would sit in the living room of Farm Lodge, owned by Stephen Biggs and Maureen Jonas, listening to the reassuring chime of the grandfather clock and the clackety-click of Katie the dog’s claws on the polished hardwood floors. Good Housekeeping magazines from 2004 lay spread on the table and I could hear the occasional bleat from their 36 sheep.

Following the introduction of weekly flights to the island, resident St Helenians, known locally as ‘Saints’, are preparing for a potential influx of tourists and investment as well as enjoying the possibilities brought by much faster transport links with South Africa.

Thirty-five after tonight’s dinner, winked Stephen, arriving with a G&T.

Everyone I passed in my rented Ford Focus would wave from behind their steering wheels. Slowly a cloak of calm unclenched my shoulders. Instead of hurtling along the winding lanes between appointments, I would pootle. Fifth gear doesn’t get much action on St Helena. Neither does fourth or third, for that matter. Signposts are merely a suggestion. If you get lost, who cares? The only witnesses are the cows.

From day one, Saints stopped on the streets of Jamestown to ask: How you, lovey? in their smooth lilt. By day two, people I’d never met were greeting me by name in that mellifluous accent.

We sound like a bunch of pigeons when we get together - we talk so fast, chortled Ivy Robinson, owner of Wellington House B&B, as we sat in her lounge. We go ‘up the eel’ - not up the hill! My dad always said I had to ‘talk tidy’ (in proper English), she said, shrugging off the suggestion.

Their nearest neighbour is Africa, 1931 kilometres away, but locals have nothing in common with that continent. Although St Helena is classed as a British Overseas Territory, the Saints aren’t particularly British either. Slaves (from ships redirected here after abolition in 1833), Chinese labourers and Boer War prisoners have all added to the ethnic mix.

Early on Thursday morning, the RMS St Helena steamed into harbour. Local ladies sat under a bench festooned with pink blossoms waiting to eye up the arrivals and soak up the gossip. The atmosphere at the airport is the same, said Stephen, who had turned up there to welcome his new guests.

There are lots of families showing up to greet each other. We’ve mentally carried over the new form of arrival and it’s the place to be seen now on a Saturday lunchtime.

But when the RMS St Helena sails for the last time from Cape Town on January 24, arriving in St Helena on February 18, bidding goodbye will be bittersweet for most islanders.

When she’s taken out of service, you won’t find me there [on the docks]. It’s too emotional. All our lives she’s been there, through good and bad - she helped us survive, said Ivy, her hands twisted nervously in her lap at the thought.

However, even bigger change is snaking its way beneath the ocean. A branch of the South Atlantic Express submarine fibre-optic cable - connecting South Africa to the US East Coast - will arrive in 2020, ending St Helena’s digital isolation. It will have a much bigger effect than the airport, said Helena Bennett, the island’s director of tourism.

Both developments will give younger Saints a shot at a future that doesn’t force them off the island in search of work. Indeed, the new four-star Mantis hotel in Main Street is already providing jobs.

It remains to be seen whether St Helena will be made or marred by the change. Back home, I found myself greeting every car I passed out of habit - but their windscreens were empty of waves.

FEATURES:

The World’s Most Remote…Distillery: Local distiller Paul Hickling puts prickly pear cacti to good use by harvesting them to produce Tungi, the local bush brandy. Saints have been making it since 1881 following a recipe brought by ivory traders from Africa. It won silver at the 2007 and 2009 Bartenders’ Challenge. Also on offer are a Jamestown gin made with Bermuda juniper berries and a rum based on spices from the Orient.

Whale sharks: Clusters of these gentle filter-feeding giants gather off the rocky shores from November to April, peaking in January and February. With visibility sometimes reaching 164ft, divers and snorkelers are guaranteed jaw-dropping photographs. Two operators on the island offer day trips.

Marathon: Held every November as part of the St Helena Festival of Running, the event raises money for the National Amateur Sports Association of St Helena and covers a 26-mile route from Francis Plain, weaving through the four districts of Sandy Bay, Longwood, St Pauls and Levelwood.

See also: Fly here • Visitor Information

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Older items are here. You could also check out the various sources listed on our Related Sites page.

St Helena books from Miles Apart:

Looking for St Helena books? Miles Apart - new and second-hand books on the South Atlantic Islands current list.{3}

UN World Book Day

UN World Book Day is sporadically celebrated on St Helena with events organised by and at the library in Jamestown.

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Article: Historical Fiction Novel Inspired by Boer POW Artefact, Based on St Helena

By Andrew Turner, published in the St Helena Sentinel 25th October 2018{b}

First-time author Michelle Pretorius visited St Helena last week to conduct research for her upcoming novel that is set on the island.

The book, ‘The Box from St Helena’, follows the story of a man who moves from England to teach on the island. He falls in love with a Saint and the couple have a daughter.

Boer POW Artefact
Michelle Pretorius and the box, crafted out of Gumwood by a Boer Prisoner of War on St Helena, that inspired the upcoming novel

As the daughter grows up and also becomes a teacher, she meets and falls for a Boer Prisoner of War; their romance takes place across well-known locations on the island.

A third of the book is very much about St Helena, Michelle told S.A.M.S. Radio 1 last week.

Michelle was born in South Africa but now resides in the UK. She first became fascinated by St Helena and the Boer connection when, as a child, a neighbour gave her a box that was handmade out of the local Gumwood by one of the Boer prisoners on St Helena.

Last week, after spending 116 years overseas, the box returned home to St Helena.

In the last two years I retired and I had this box sitting on my desk and I thought ‘I owe someone a story about this,’ Michelle said as she sat in the S.A.M.S. studio with the artefact.

Over the last two years Michelle has been thoroughly researching for the book, reading all about the island online before finally making it to the island herself.

It felt like I had been here all my life, she said. I knew all the street names, I knew where to go; I just needed to walk the walk and feel the atmosphere of the place.

The book is yet to be published, but Michelle is hoping to have the book published later this year, either through a publisher or through the Kindle store.

Early copies will be donated to the Public Library.

Laugh at funny Read articles about St Helena humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} www.bairdmaritime.com{b} South Atlantic Media Services Ltd (SAMS){1}

Footnotes:
{1} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{2} If anyone from SHG (or anywhere else, for that matter) wants to offer us such a grant please contact us.{3} NB: This is not an advertisement.{4} Or our Reading Sports page.

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