Many years ago, the British government purchased a 1963 passenger/cargo ship named Northland Prince to fulfil the role of servicing St Helena Island.
After being refitted and renamed, it became the first RMS St Helena and entered service in September 1978.
The converted ship now had a capacity to carry 76 passengers and supplies.
Later, the RMS St Helena would be used alongside the Royal Navy during the Falklands War (2 April – 14 June 1982) as a minesweeper support ship.
Saint Travel Ltd spoke to Patrick Williams, former Bosun of the RMS St Helena, who was amongst the St Helenian crew who assisted in the Falklands War. Patrick told us about the RMS and his experience during the days of the Falklands War:
“The old RMS St Helena was fitted out in Portsmouth in May 1982. Guns were fitted on the Foc’sle port, Starboard, Portside and Promenade deck. The replenishment at sea gear, including the hose boom was fitted using the ships derrick.
I was the first Quarter Master to be Helmsman while doing trials with our replenishment at sea (RAS) gear with the RFA Black Rover in Portland Harbour.
On-board fresh water tanks were converted to fuel tanks. Only one water tank was in use. We had a good osmosis tank on-board that converted sea water to fresh water.
A TEU container was kept in hatch number 4, with radio equipment (in case the bridge was bombed out), as well as spare engines for the Minehunters.
There was also mini subs (yellow pips), that was used to hunt for mines.
The passenger accommodation was used for the Royal Navy personnel, but we had our usual area that was out of bounds to them. We had sleeping bags, and didn’t use sheets because there was no time to wash them.
We didn’t do fire and boat drills every day, but we had to action station drills.
Somehow the war was over by the time we arrived at Stanley, Falkland Islands.
In Stanley, we had to go wherever the Minehunters went. We were there for about a month. The late Pat Francis (better known as Pat Tudor) and I were the first two Saints to step ashore from the RMS at Port Stanley, to go to the Post Office, and check for mail for the ships company.
We departed the Falkland Islands for St Helena, where we would change crew, but to our disappointment, we had no welcome from the Island. However, we received a delightful welcome when we arrived in Scotland.”
By the mid-1980s, it became apparent that the ship was too small for the Island’s needs, and consequently resulted in the construction of the new RMS St Helena.
In 1986, Her Majesty’s Government agreed to a new purpose built ship to serve St Helena Island.
Three Quays Marine Services was awarded the contract for the design work, and Hall, Russell & Company was contracted by Her Majesty’s Government to build the ship. Unfortunately, Hall, Russell & Company went into Administration, and the contract was taken over and completed by A&P Appledore.
Following 3 years of construction works, the £32,420,00 RMS St Helena was launched by HRH Prince Andrew in Aberdeen on 31 October 1989.
In November 1990, the RMS came into service, and departed Cardiff on her maiden voyage.
She continued to loyally serve the Island, calling at Cape Town and Ascension Island, with the occasional visit to the UK and Tristan da Cunha.
The RMS St Helena is British registered and is 6.767 gross tonnes. She can carry up to 92 standard containers, including 17 reefers.
She is equipped with many modern facilities which includes: a swimming pool, shop, lounges, telephone, fax and internet services, air condition and stabilisers. She is also well-equipped with medical facilities and an on-board doctor.
Originally, the RMS had a capacity to carry 126 passengers. However, the ship’s capacity was extended in 2012 by the addition of 24 extra cabin berths and a new gym.
For the past 27 years, The RMS has sadly brought home people to be laid to rest, and happily carried returning Saints, new born babies and first time visitors to the Island in well-fed comfort. Not only has she brought passengers, but she has also carried our vital supplies, anything from wind turbines to automotive parts, Christmas turkeys to furniture, food and paint to the Island.
In 2016, St Helena Airport was scheduled to be open to commercial air service, and would consequently result in the RMS being decommissioned. Therefore, a ‘Farewell Tour’ was organised whereby the RMS St Helena would sail up to London, calling at Ascension Island and Tenerife, and back down to Cape Town to be decommissioned. It was later discovered that there would be a delay in the airports commercial air service. Despite this, the RMS St Helena continued on her ‘Farewell Tour’. On 7 June 2016, she sailed up the River Thames, through Tower Bridge and moored alongside the HMS Belfast, where she stayed for approximately one week.
Various receptions were held on-board, during which a number of invited guest, comprising of Elected Members of St Helena Council, representatives of the Armed Forces, St Helenian students, and HRH Princess Royal, enjoyed the spectacular views of London, including the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
On witnessing the RMS St Helena sail away from London for the last time, Ex 2nd Engineer of the RMS St Helena Mark Williams said:
“The RMS, it felt like the end of an era for a very special and unique ship that realised many a ‘Saint’ dream into reality.”
Since her maiden voyage in 1990, the RMS has completed a total of 268 voyages. She is not just a ship … she is our Lifeline. We wish her the best of luck for the future!
#StHelena #RMSStHelena #LifeLine #FinalVoyage