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RMS St Helena

Two remarkable ships: 1978-2018

Sailing o’er the rolling billows, Sailing through the azure vapours, Sailing through the dusk of evening, Sailing to the fiery sunset, To the higher-landed regions, To the lower verge of heaven
The Kalevala, a Finnish mythological poem

From October 1978 until February 2018 St Helena was served by two remarkable ships

The two RMS St Helena s, together in Cardiff, 1990
The two RMS St Helenas, together in Cardiff, 1990

Below: First RMS St Helena, 1978-1990 • Second RMS St Helena, 1990-2018 • Earlier ships • Not without incident… • Why ‘RMS’ • Read More

The primary route to St Helena is now the scheduled commercial air service. Heavy freight is transported by the Sea Freight service and lighter goods are transported by air.

The first RMS St Helena, 1978-1990

The first RMS St Helena, seen here in James Bay
The first RMS St Helena, seen here in James Bay

From the 19th Century St Helena was served by regular Union Castle Line services between the UK and South Africa, which also called at St Helena. In the 1960s, as sea-travel steadily gave way to air-travel, Union Castle began reducing the frequency of its services and in 1977 it announced that the entire route would close later that year{5}. The British government therefore had to find an alternative means of supplying the island and providing travel to and from, there being at that time no Airport.

They found in Vancouver the part-passenger, part-cargo 3,150 ton ship Northland Prince, launched on 11th June 1963, previously used between Vancouver and Alaska, and purchased her for a price of £940,000 to fulfil the role.

After being refitted with room to carry 76 passengers and supplies at a cost of £1,500,000, she was renamed the first RMS St Helena{6} and launched by Princess Margaret. She arrived at St Helena for the first time on 5th October 1978, on her maiden voyage. Her radio callsign was GXUY.

Governor Baker’s announcement of the new ship:

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

You can hear the horn of the first RMS, signalling departure from St Helena, and also the mealtime ’gong’ (right).

The RMS was used by the Royal Navy during the 1982 Falklands Conflict as a minesweeper support ship{7}. She arrived at Avonmouth in the UK on the 22nd May, where the passengers and cargo were off-loaded. She then sailed that evening for Portsmouth where she arrived the following day. It was here that she was to be extensively modified for her new role as a support ship. A flight deck was built aft for the Wasp helicopter (which carried AS12 missiles). Four 20 millimetre Oerlikon guns were fitted, extra fuel tanks were installed and the derricks were replaced with raising gear. The RMS sailed south on 13th June 1982. She saw action supporting minesweepers, off Stanley from 9th June, and from 15th July off San Carlos. She supported HMS Brecon and HMS Ledbury in minehunting/sweeping, and other ordnance clearance, including diving on the wrecks of sunken warships. She completed her duties on 14th August and set sail for the UK, calling at St Helena on 25th August to drop off Saint crew. Inexplicably, there was no welcome. But her return was short-lived because she was recalled immediately for further military service, not returning finally to St Helena until 8th October 1983. While she was away, Curnow Shipping chartered the RMS Centaur and MV Argonite as replacement vessels to serve St Helena.

Many Saints always believed the green-colour of the RMS would make her an unlucky ship… Five years into her service a serious fire in the ship’s engine room while in mid-Atlantic was, fortunately, brought under control by the crew with no serious injuries.

By the mid-1980s it was becoming apparent that the ship was too small and too old for the island’s future needs. On 21st May 1986 Governor Baker came on Radio St Helena, interrupting the evening programme, to announce that the UK Government would build a new ship for St Helena (right).

The second RMS St Helena was built and the first ship was sold to South African based interests. She was renamed the Avalon and traded for a while in the Mauritius and Mozambique areas before going to Singapore in 1996 for scrap. More of her more recent history can be read here.

Northland Prince
Northland Prince

…

First RMS, in the UK
First RMS, in the UK

First RMS, in James Bay
First RMS, in James Bay

…
{a}

…

The swimming pool
The swimming pool{b}

First RMS in the 1982 Falklands Conflict {1}
First RMS in the 1982 Falklands Conflict{1}

Falklands Crew, 1982
Falklands Crew, 1982

First RMS with Falklands fittings
First RMS with Falklands fittings{c}

Model of first RMS in the Museum of St Helena {2}
Model of first RMS in the Museum of St Helena{2}{c}

First RMS on a postage stamp
First RMS on a postage stamp

First RMS, renamed Avalon
First RMS, renamed Avalon

 

Remarkably, on the first RMS it was possible to book a cheaper passage by sleeping on the deck instead of occupying a cabin, this practice having been carried over from the Union Castle ships. Many older Saints remember doing this to save money. This option was not carried forward to the second RMS St Helena.

The second RMS St Helena, 1990-2018

Below: About the second RMS St Helena • Audio • Disabled Passengers • 25th Anniversary • End of service

The RMS St Helena, seen here in James Bay
The RMS St Helena, seen here in James Bay{8}

About the second RMS St Helena

RMS Plaque

RMS Lifebelt
RMS Logo

She:

The RMS St Helena commenced her final voyage for St Helena on 24th January 2018. She made her final call at Ascension Island on 3rd February, returning to James Bay on 6th. Her final departure from St Helena was on Saturday 10th February 2018, scheduled to return to Cape Town on 15th for decommissioning{10}.

Nameplate

The RMS maintained many of the traditions of the ocean liner era, including the captain’s cocktail party in the main lounge, the traditional crossing-the-line ceremony{11} and a cricket match on deck between passengers and crew. The photographs below encapsulate a typical voyage from Cape Town:

Boarding
Boarding{d}

Leaving Cape Town
Leaving Cape Town{e}

Flag, aft
Flag, aft

Cabin
Cabin

Deck sports
Deck sports{f}

Deck sports
Deck sports

Deck sports
Deck sports

It’s definitely a mermaid!
It’s definitely a mermaid!

RMS arrival at St Helena
RMS arrival at St Helena

RMS unloading
RMS unloading

From Ladder Hill Road
From Ladder Hill Road

From Shy Road
From Shy Road

In the bay at night
In the bay at night

Onboard departing RMS
Onboard departing RMS

Back towards Cape Town
Back towards Cape Town{g}

 

Here are a few more pictures:

Launch, 31 st October 1989
Launch, 31st October 1989

St Helena on the radar
St Helena on the radar

Approaching from Ascension
Approaching from Ascension

RMS in James Bay
RMS in James Bay{h}

RMS dwarfed by MV Amadea
RMS dwarfed by MV Amadea

RMS Float, Carnival 2010
RMS Float, Carnival 2010

RMS’ Christmas Card 2015
RMS’ Christmas Card 2015

The RMS St Helena off St Helena
The RMS St Helena off St Helena{i}

In LEGO™ {3}
In LEGO™{3}

 

Audio

An extract from a broadcast made on Radio St Helena recording the arrival of the new RMS to St Helena on her maiden voyage from the UK.

Arrival 30th November 1990

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

Governor Gurr speaking on SaintFM (2004-2012) in 2010 about the importance of the RMS to St Helena.

Our lifeline

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

Hear the RMSBlowing Off’ prior to departure (a single blast signified arrival).

‘Blowing Off’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

The RMS unloading passengers
The RMS unloading passengers

Disabled Passengers

Air Taxi

Elsewhere we describe how, at St Helena, passengers descended from the RMS to a small boat, were ferried across to the Wharf, and climbed onto land swinging on ropes. This begs the question: what about less able-bodied passengers?

The answer was the ‘Air Taxi’. This was a small-ish cage which was lifted like cargo onto and off the RMS using the crane, travelled to shore on a barge and was craned onto land, again like cargo. This was used for anybody who had difficulty walking, not just the wheelchair-bound. It was also used for the more severe medical patients.

25th Anniversary

Published on The St Helena Wirebird 28th October 2014.

The legendary RMS St Helena celebrated its 25th year in operation this month. The RMS, one of only four surviving Royal Mail Ships in the world, connects St Helena with Cape Town. To mark this special milestone, Master Rodney Young welcomed guests on board the ship moored in Duncan Dock, of the Cape Town Harbour.

Young, who was born on St Helena, is one of two shipmasters who share the responsibility of sailing the ship. The second captain of the RMS is Young’s cousin. He has been the captain of the ship since 25th October 2000. I was married exactly one month prior to my appointment. For every year that’s gone by, I’ve worked for six months on board the RMS. The RMS is very much part of the Island; it’s an extension of the Island. I know the passengers, I know who the cargo is intended for, and I know the store owners.

Over the weekend the RMS St Helena was featured in The Sunday Times’ ‘Small Ships, Big Adventures guide’. This shows that the RMS St Helena holds a prestigious place in the highly competitive UK cruise market, offering a truly unique journey.

In 2010 the Government of St Helena and the United Kingdom announced plans to construct St Helena airport, which will be operational by 2016. The airport project continues to run on time and on budget. With the opening of the airport, the future of the RMS St Helena has yet to be determined but Young is optimistic about the crew’s prospects.

The crew has worked together for a long time. They are very close, and in fact some are family. We have a brother and sister, mother and daughter and a father and daughter on board. Whatever the plan following the completion of the airport, the RMS St Helena crew is very well trained and service orientated - they will be an asset to St Helena as tourism develops.

RMS 25 Years stamp issue

End of service

On completion of her service the RMS St Helena had been operating for 27 years and had sailed some 2,170,035 Nautical Miles, which would be 100 trips around the Earth’s Equator or five trips to the Moon and back.

Below: RMS in London, 2016 • For Sale • Last ‘Bon Voyage’ • Don’t cry for me St Helena

RMS in London, 2016

When the scheduled commercial air service was expected to commence in May 2016 it was decided that the RMS would go on a sort-of ‘farewell tour’, up to London and back before sailing down to Cape Town to be decommissioned. Despite the delay in starting the scheduled commercial air service, the London trip went ahead. On 7th June 2016 the RMS sailed up the River Thames, through Tower Bridge and moored alongside HMS Belfast for a stay of around a week.

You can see below a gallery of images{h} of the RMS in London:

Final UK voyage

RMS in London: lower Thames

…

…

…

RMS in London: at Tower Bridge

…

…

…

…

RMS in London: with HMS Belfast

Lifebelt with Tower Bridge

RMS in London: nighttime

RMS in London: Welcome!

Princess Royal

 

For Sale

In April 2016, with the scheduled commercial air service due to start in May, St Helena Line announced that she would be put up for sale, with London shipbroker CW Kellock & Co Ltd handling the sale. No ‘asking price’ was announced. She was, at the time, expected to be ready for delivery to buyers in Cape Town during July/August 2016. However the service extension changed this…

• Schedule Extended!

Due to the delay in starting the commercial air service the RMS schedule was extended, and it was extended further on 12th June 2016 to continue until February 2018.

• For Sale…Again!

On 5th October 2017 St Helena Line again announced it was putting the RMS St Helena up for sale after it was withdrawn from service in February 2018. London ship broker CW Kellock & Co. Ltd. would again handle the sale. The full announcement appears below:

Further details about the RMS St Helena:
UK flag
Built 1990 A&P Appledore, UK.
3130 dwt on 6.016m draft.
105m long, 19.2m beam.
Class: Lloyds Register.
6,767 gross tonnes.
Accommodation: 156 passengers in 56 cabins, 56 officers and crew.
Dining salon. Lounge. Sun lounge. Swimming pool. Gymnasium. Stabilisers. Air conditioning.
Cargo capacity 3750 cbm bale. 92 teu (of which 17 reefer).
2 holds, 2 hatches. Cranes 2/30 Derricks 2/10.
Main engines: 2 x Mirrlees KMR6MK3. 8880BHP.
Service speed 14knts IFO180- 19MT per day MDO 2MT per day

Operated by St Helena Line Ltd (SHL) on behalf of the St Helena Government (SHG), the RMS has been part of the Island’s history for over quarter of a century and provided the sole regular means of access to the Island, a remote UK Overseas Territory located 1200 miles off the West coast of Africa in the South Atlantic.

She was built in the UK in 1990 specifically for the St Helena route. At 6,767 gross tonnes, she can accommodate 156 passengers in 56 cabins, together with a cargo capacity of 3750 cbm bale, and 92 teu (of which 17 reefer). She is staffed by 56 officers and crew.

The RMS St Helena is one of only four ships left in the world which has the right to carry the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) prefix.

The RMS currently operates out of Cape Town calling at both St Helena and Ascension Island on a regular schedule.

With the start of scheduled passenger flights to St Helena on 14th October 2017 providing the main passenger access to the Island, the RMS St Helena will be withdrawn from service.

The RMS St Helena is now embarked on her final programmed voyages and in the coming weeks will make a farewell call to Tristan da Cunha and then a final voyage to both St Helena and Ascension Island. She is expected to finish her last voyage in Cape Town on 15 February 2018.

SHL has appointed the highly experienced London ship brokers CW Kellock & Co Ltd (Part of the Eggar Forrester Group), to handle the sale and it is hoped that a buyer can be found to continue to trade the vessel elsewhere in the world.

Commenting on the sale process and her withdrawal from service, SHL’s Chairman, Matt Young, said:

The RMS St Helena has played a vital role in sustaining St Helena’s population and, for the past 27 years has been the sole means of regular access to the Island. Her combined passenger accommodation and cargo design makes her well suited to a number of different trading options and we are confident that she can continue to play an important role elsewhere in the world.

Further details on the RMS St Helena can be found on: www.rms-st-helena.com

Prospective purchasers should contact:
CW Kellock & Co Ltd: Paul Willcox
Tel +44 0207 4481395
Email: Kellock@eggarforrester.com
Media Contact: Simon Quarendon, Keene Communications
Email: simon@keenecomms.com
Tel: 00 44 (0)207 839 2140, 00 44 (0)7850 618418 (M)

The vessel is currently in service and can be inspected in Cape Town, South Africa, where she is scheduled to call on 17th to 21st Oct, 8th to 11th Nov, 29th Nov to 1st Dec, 27th to 29th Dec and 22nd to 24th Jan 2018. The vessel is expected to be ready for delivery to buyers in Cape Town at the end of Feb 2018.

St Helena Line Ltd
5 October 2017

• Sold

MV MNG Tahiti, April 2018
MV MNG Tahiti, April 2018{j}

In April 2018 it was announced that the ‘RMS’ had been sold. The buyer was Tahiti Shipping Limited, part of MNG Maritime, a company offering logistic support, accommodation, storage, training and transfer services. Tahiti Shipping Limited supplies sea-based floating armouries in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Malacca Strait, and SE Asia. She was renamed the MV MNG Tahiti. More in the article, below. In September 2018 she was sold again and renamed the St Helena.

A last ‘Bon Voyage’

The RMS St Helena commenced her final voyage for St Helena on 24th January 2018. She made her final call at Ascension Island on 3rd February, returning to James Bay on 6th. Her final departure from St Helena was on Saturday 10th February 2018, scheduled to return to Cape Town on 15th for decommissioning{10}.

RMS souvenirs
RMS souvenirs
RMS Meme
{k}

Prior to the departure from Cape Town a short ceremony marked the occasion, during which a 27ft ‘paying off’ pennant, to mark the 27 years’ service of the RMS St Helena, was carried onboard by a number of RMS Officers and crew. The pennant was flown from the RMS main mast as she set sail amidst a cloud of confetti.

Celebrations were arranged for the RMS’ final sailing from St Helena, arriving from Ascension on 9th and departing for Cape Town on 10th February 2018. These included an open day featuring trips around the ship (which sold out within a few days of being announced), a seaside market with live local band, a fancy-hat competition, a performance of The final act of stupidity by the RMS Amateur Dramatics Society, a parade by the crew through Jamestown and a flotilla of small boats to accompany her departure. Friday 9th was declared a public holiday.

The full programme was:

Friday 9th February

Saturday 10th February

15:00

Market stalls on the seafront

09:00

Parade through Jamestown

16:00

Live music: Route 66

10:00

Passenger embarkation

18:00

Competition winners presentations

14:30

Live music: St Helena Singers

19:00

Speeches

14:45

Presentation of ‘Paying-off Pennant’

19:30

Live music: Kudos

15:00

Lowering of the flag; Last Post

20:00

RMS Amateur Dramatics performance: The final act of stupidity

15:10

Flotilla

21:00

Live music: Island Politics

15:10

Live music: Dry Bottle Country Band

22:30

Fireworks

15:45

Auld Lang Syne / My St Helena Island

22:45

Live music: The Big Easy

16:00

RMS Departs

Farewell ceremony on the wharf
Farewell ceremony on the wharf{l}

The Post Office announced on 25th January that a stamp issue would commemorate the last voyage of the RMS St Helena, featuring 25p, 40p, 50p & 60p stamps, a Souvenir Sheet and a First Day Cover. The images would be of the RMS departing on 10th February, the issue being available in March. Actually issued on 10th February 2018, but not going on sale in St Helena until 1st August 2018, they are{m}:

End of the RMS St Helena stamps

The Government of St Helena presented the following statistics about the second RMS St Helena (1990-2018): 268 voyages completed; 1.2m litres of water consumed (plus 0.2m litres of beer); meals including 21,000 chickens, 135 cows, 49,000Kg of baked beans, 1.7m eggs, 2.2m bread rolls and 111,000 loaves, and ice cream totalling 132,280 litres; total toilet paper used{12} would reach from Cape Town to the UK.

Leaving Tristan for the last time
Leaving Tristan for the last time{d}

Voyage 268
Voyage 268

Leaving Ascension for the last time
Leaving Ascension for the last time{n}

RMS farewell cake
RMS farewell cake{h}

Final circuit of James Bay
Final circuit of James Bay

RMS leaving James Bay
RMS leaving James Bay{d}

RMS heading for Cape Town
RMS heading for Cape Town{d}

Final docking in Cape Town
Final docking in Cape Town{d}

Final Red Ensign {4}
Final Red Ensign{4}{d}

 

Gone, but not gone…

In actual fact, due to a medical emergency onboard the RMS returned to James Bay at 7am on 12th, where she dropped off the patient (for a Medevac flight) and left again just after 8am, arriving in Cape Town on 17th February.

Arriving at Cape Town on 17th February the RMS docked in E-Berth, the engines being switched off at 09:51h. The passengers disembarked and then, after giving the ship one last cleanup, so did the crew.

As the curtain falls on the era of the great mail ships, we proudly hand over the baton to a newer and more modern mode of travel.
Captain Adam Williams, last Master of the RMS St Helena.

Don’t cry for me St Helena

To the tune of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina{o}:

Don’t cry for me St Helena! The truth is I never left you. All through the years of my existence. I kept my promise. You kept your distance.

It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange. Explaining everyone’s emotions. When I no longer anchor in the island’s bay of St. James!

All you will remember is a ship you once knew. Giving the islanders freedom and life in a world anew. I serve you, and in return you served me too!

It had to happen. It had to change. It’s not an illusion. I hope the airport which promises to be the island’s solution.

Sailing the ocean’s waves, through the sun and rain. You all welcome me each time I return again ‘n again.

For you I’ve done so much. There is nothing more I can do. My time has finally come to an end serving you. It’s time to say my last Goodbye. Sailing off into the blue!

Don’t cry for me St Helena. The truth is you’ll never forget me. All through the years of my existence; I kept my promise. You kept your distance.

Don’t cry for me St Helena!

Sailing into the sunset.
Sailing into the sunset.{g}

Earlier ships

Below: Schooner ‘Saint Helena’ • HMS St Helena

The Schooner Saint Helena
The Schooner Saint Helena

The Schooner ‘Saint Helena’

In the early 19th century a ship called the Saint Helena was used by The East India Company as a packet ship, sailing between St Helena and the Cape of Good Hope. She did two tours of duty at St Helena, from 1814 to 1821, and again from 1822 to 1830 carrying, cattle, grain and stores to St Helena.

In April 1830 she was captured by pirates off the African Coast, en route to Sierra Leone. Most of the crew were massacred and the ship destroyed.

More on the Wikipedia.

The HMS St Helena

RMS St Helena
HMS St Helena

In 1944, during World War 2, the American Navy lent the Royal Navy a frigate which was named HMS St Helena. She served under that name until she was returned to the US Navy in 1946.

Not without incident…

Both RMS St Helenas were mechanical devices lovingly cared for by humans, so the occasional failure was inevitable:

Fire on the first RMS, November 1984

Yesterday, telegraphic news was received from Andrew Bell of Curnow Shipping, to the effect that the RMS St Helena en route from Ascension to Tenerife had hovered 270 mls South West of Freetown after a fire in her engine room. The fire was centred on a generator and was fought by the prompt and courageous action of the ship’s staff. ‘A’ Deck, that is the crew’s accommodation and ‘B’ Deck, the passenger accommodation, were affected by smoke with the fire having spread up the engine room casing. Fortunately there were NO casualties amongst crew and passengers. The ship was put on power from an emergency generator located in another part of the ship. A passing tanker was seen standing by during hours of darkness. Radio St Helena, in its Local News Bulletin, will keep you up-dated with further information.{p}
Fire, Nov. 1984

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

On 13th February 1985 on Radio St Helena Tony Leo interviewed Captain Mike Underwood about the fire (right).

‘Give us an airport, say islanders’

People on the remote island of St Helena are pressing to be given an airport after their only supply ship broke down. Panic-buying has started in shops in the South Atlantic territory, where nearly all food is imported. Margarine and long-life milk are already selling out.

The RMS St Helena was taking cargo and passengers to the tiny British territory, more than 1,600 km off the coast of Angola, when one of its engines failed. It is now awaiting repairs in the French port of Brest. It will be about at least month before she reaches the island.

Around 60 of the passengers bound for home are sitting out the delay; 35 tourists have abandoned their cruise. Some islanders are stranded in South Africa with little money.

The breakdown has intensified the long-running debate over the island’s lack of an airport. It has come only two weeks after a cargo ship diverted for 36 hours to pick up six-year-old Danni Clifford, who’d collapsed with acute leukaemia. She is now in Cape Town and is expected to recover - a great relief to the 5,500 island residents.

But the front page of the St Helena News is asking, Does it take a death to end our isolation? The new Governor, Governor David Hollamby, has said it may make economic sense to build an airport when the ship needs replacing, but that’s 10 years away.

More immediately, there’s a chance some Christmas mail will arrive late. St Helenians are used to this - last year’s presents only arrived in April, because the British Post Office missed several sailings.

The residents of St Helena, best known as the site of Napoleon’s final exile, depend for a living on fish exports and ship maintenance.{q}

‘Mail ship turns back…for mail!’

The RMS St Helena caused a stir within Jamestown on Wednesday afternoon after news quickly travelled through the street that she had turned back toward James Bay an hour after her departure at lunchtime. The reason for this was to collect important documents that could only be sent to Cape Town as hard copies. The transfer of the documents was made between the Wideawake and the ship, whilst the RMS had stopped in the harbour. Within minutes of the transfer engines were started and she was on her way again bound for Cape Town.{r}

Propeller failure, 2017

On 25th February 2017 the RMS reported a problem with the starboard propeller. The ship completed its voyage (254) and returned to Cape Town, running on only one engine. In Cape Town the RMS was put into dry dock in Simons Town, as a consequence of which the following voyage, 255, was cancelled. On 14th April the engine problems were reported to be worse than originally thought. The RMS had left dry dock on 12th April, the repairs having been certified by both the Rolls Royce engineer and the surveyor from Lloyds Register, but had to return immediately because the ‘fix’ apparently had not worked. Voyage 256 was therefore also cancelled. A flight was chartered by the Government of St Helena to bring stranded passengers back from Cape Town and deliver people stranded here to South Africa.

The RMS eventually left dry dock on 3rd May and sailed for St Helena at around 2am on 5th May, arriving on 9th May. It should be noted that this breakdown occurred approximately seven years after the RMSoriginal scheduled decommissioning date.

Nearly Never Finished

While all the fuss was being made about Wind Shear at the new Airport it should have been remembered that construction of the second RMS was not without problems. The builders, Hall, Russell and Company of Aberdeen, went bankrupt in October 1988, half way through the build. Fortunately the situation was recovered - the company was taken over by A&P Appledore and the build was completed by them. Napoleon’s Curse anybody?

RMS, Embossed

Why ‘RMS’

Crowds greet the RMS
Crowds greet the RMS

So why were our ships the ‘RMS St Helena’? Why not just the ‘MV St Helena’?

‘RMS’ stands for Royal Mail Ship, and shows that she is a seagoing vessel that carries mail under contract by Royal Mail. The designation dates back to 1840 - also the year in which the Penny Black stamp was introduced{13}. Famous ships carrying the designation RMS have included:

Having the designation ‘RMS’ was valued by ship owners because it was seen as a mark of quality by customers - the mail had to be delivered securely, and on time.

The second RMS St Helena (1990-2018) was the last ocean-going Royal Mail Ship, and one of only four ships at that time with the right to the prefix or its variations{14}. It was also one of only three that actually carried mail (the RMS Queen Mary II has the honorary designation; it is a cruise ship and does not provide a scheduled mail delivery service).

For more about the history of Royal Mail Ships see the Royal Mail Ship page on Wikipedia.

Read More

Below: Article: St Helena’s cherished lifeline ship to return as anti-piracy armoury • Article: New British postage labels feature ships that have carried the mail • Article: End of an era as RMS St Helena makes final voyage from Cape Town • Article: Royal Mail Ship St Helena - saying farewell to the beating heart of a community

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

By Joe Brock, www.reuters.com, 18th April 2018{15}

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.{s}

Article: New British postage labels feature ships that have carried the mail

By Denise McCarty, Linns’ Stamp News, 16th February 2018{15}

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.

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

Traveller 24, 25th January 2018{15}

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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’.

Article: Royal Mail Ship St Helena - saying farewell to the beating heart of a community

By John Honeywell; published in The Daily Mirror 23rd August 2014.{15}

Dwarfed: RMS St Helena meets the Queen Mary 2
Dwarfed: RMS St Helena meets the Queen Mary IICommunity: View over James Bay and Jamestown waterfront
Community: View over James Bay and Jamestown waterfrontHistory: Catching some sun on deck
History: Catching some sun on deckNightlife: Barbecue night on RMS St Helena
Nightlife: Barbecue night on RMS St Helena

No one could quite understand my determination to visit the remote island St Helena.

Why would I take three weeks out of my life - a week to get there, eight days on a speck of rock in the South Atlantic, and a week to get home?

I wasn’t even sure myself, although once the seed had been planted it began to grow and grow; nothing would stop me.

Here was an opportunity to visit one of Britain’s last remaining outposts before it changes forever and the opening of an airport drags it into the 21st century.

I was invited because I write about cruise ships.

The only way to reach St Helena - unless you happen to own your own yacht - is by passenger ship.

The sturdy RMS St Helena is the vessel that makes the journey regularly.

Not long ago it ran a scheduled service from the UK, now it is reduced to shuttling from Cape Town, sailing onwards to Ascension Island and occasionally making a detour to Tristan da Cunha.

It is one of only two remaining passenger vessels designated Royal Mail Ships - Cunard’s Queen Mary II is the other; they once ‘met’ at Tristan da Cunha - and who knows what might happen now our post offices have been privatised.

The hefty subsidy that the Foreign Office{16} lays out each year to keep the service afloat is one reason why we are pouring £250 million into building St Helena’s first airport, which should open in about a year.

Once the scheduled commercial air service becomes established, the 344ft RMS St Helena - built in Aberdeen in 1990 - will be pensioned off and the unique experience of its passage across the South Atlantic will be gone.

The ship is more than just 6,767 gross tonnes of steel capable of carrying 156 passengers, 55 crew and up to 1,800 tonnes of cargo.

It is the beating heart of the small community.

When the ship is in James Bay the 4,000 islanders smile more broadly than usual.

When it bobs at anchor, life in the sleepy capital, Jamestown, perks up; shops and bars open specially, or for longer hours, than during the rest of the month.

The RMS is the residents’ lifeline. The ship is the only way to get to Cape Town when islanders need treatment beyond the capabilities of the island’s small hospital.

It transports them to the outside world for education, training and employment.

It brings them back for family celebrations and when they decide to return home for good.

It brings everything needed for daily life - food, household goods, cars, tools.

You name it, it’s all there in the containers winched off the ship and on to pontoons to be floated ashore.

For many Saints, a regular job on the ship has set them up for life.

Like the island, the ship is a journey back in time, but it would be wrong to pretend it offers a luxury cruise experience.

The cabins, some shared by four people, are as basic as those on a cross-Channel ferry.

The extras-indulging occupants of the few suites are limited to a fridge and a bowl of fruit.

No balcony, or even picture window, from which to survey the ocean; just a simple porthole within splashing distance of the swell.

No television, just a radio with a choice of two channels - BBC World Service or music.

There’s a small gym somewhere up near the funnel - climbing the steps to reach it would be enough exercise for me.

The view forward from the ship’s main lounge is of containers on the cargo deck; the Sun Lounge looks out across a small swimming pool to a large area of open deck and the seemingly endless wake trailing behind the ship.

The emptiness of the sky is only occasionally broken by an albatross or a pair of petrels.

Highlight of the journey is the fiercely competitive cricket match between passengers and crew.

Whether it was thanks to the presence of Governor Mark Capes on board to cheer from the boundary we will never know, but the passengers scored an exceedingly rare victory.

Just as on a cruise ship, the captain holds a welcome cocktail party; officers share tables with guests in the compact dining saloon, and there’s a quiz which is almost as cut-throat as the cricket.

The crew seem to have abandoned the habit of putting on a cabaret, although they still serve hot beef tea at 11am.

Entertainment is limited to deck games, the well-stocked bar and a few film nights.

Days are spent reading, sleeping, and scanning the empty ocean with nothing to see but sea and sky.

My journey coincided with Remembrance Sunday and the captain and the governor held a moving service on the afterdeck.

Eerily, an albatross flew over the wake as the Last Post sounded and a wreath was dropped on to the waves.

Before long, the Last Post will be sounded for RMS St Helena.

There are precious few opportunities remaining to make the journey before the ship sails into the sunset for the last time.

Laugh at funny RMS St Helena humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} Daniel Stroud{b} Lynette Stuart (nee Joshua){c} Bob Wilson{d} SH Travel{e} Christopher L Godden, 20th August 2016{f} Mail Online{g} www.rms-st-helena.com{h} Tourist Office{i} This image was reproduced with permission of the artist. Contact details given were www.artbyLeora.com and leora@artbyleora.com but this domain name is no longer responding{j} Glenn Kasner in RMS St Helena - A Celebration{k} Saint Memes{l} St Helena Online{m} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS){n} Neil Fantom{o} Ruthie Stevens, December 2017{15}{p} St Helena News Review, 2nd November 1984{15}{q} BBC News, November 1999{15}{r} St Helena Herald, 10th February 2012{15}{s} www.bairdmaritime.com

Footnotes:
{1} RMS in the centre; the others are HMS Ledbury and HMS Brecon (but we don’t know which is which - sorry.){2} We didn’t know who made this model and appealed for the creator to contact us so we could attribute it. We got the following message: I have just been looking at the Saint Helena site http://sainthelenaisland.info/rms.htm where, amongst other things, it asks who built the model of RMS St Helena (I) shown during the Falklands Campaign in 1982/83. I did! I built a series of models that were displayed on the new ship for a number of years. These were RMS St Helena, Kenya Castle, Good Hope Castle, Guildford Castle, Bosun Bird, plus the sailing ships Saint Helena, Torrens and Blenheim, all of which had St Helena connections. I believe they are now all in the Museum in Jamestown. My own island connections were as radio officer in Good Hope Castle, first RMS St Helena (I) and second RMS St Helena (II) between the years of 1974 and 1992. My Facebook group is Merchant Ships in Miniature. - Bob Wilson So, mystery resolved!{3} We don’t know who made this model. If it was you, please contact us so we can attribute this fine creation!{4} Presented to the Museum of St Helena in recognition of all the seafarers who served on the ship.{5} The last Union Castle Line ship to make a scheduled call at St Helena was the Southampton Castle, which sailed on 16th September 1977.{6} Though sometimes referred to as the RMS St Helena Island.{7} The book ‘Falklands War - Get Stuft’ by I H Milburn tells the story. A sailor’s diary from the Falklands War 1982, telling the truth with tongue-in-cheek humour. The book charts the voyage taken by the RMS St Helena (a Ship Taken Up From Trade - STUFT).{8} You may recognise this photo - it appears all over the Internet. Can we please just claim credit for it? John, editor of this website and a Director of Burgh House Limited, took the photo in the evening of his first arrival on St Helena on 28th January 2005. It is released into the public domain (NB for non-commercial use only) on Wikipedia (just thought you should know…).{9} Hall, Russell and Company actually fell into bankruptcy during the build, and was taken over by A&P Appledore, who completed the project.{10} In actual fact, due to a medical emergency onboard the RMS returned to James Bay at 7am on 12th, where she dropped off the patient (for a Medevac flight) and left again just after 8am, arriving in Cape Town on 17th February.{11} Though after calls to the UK were suspended the RMS no longer crossed the equator.{12} We feel sorry for the person who had to count it.{13} In the UK. The first St Helena stamp wasn’t issued until 1st January 1856.{14} See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Mail_Ship to learn about the others.{15} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{16} Actually, it’s DFID, not the FCO.

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