RMS St Helena (1989)

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RMS St Helena in James Bay, Island of St. Helena
RMS St Helena in James Bay, Island of St. Helena
Name: RMS St Helena
Owner: St Helena Line Ltd
Operator: Andrew Weir Shipping Ltd
Port of registry: London,  United Kingdom
Builder: A P Appledore (Aberdeen) Ltd
In service: 1990
Identification: IMO number: 8716306
Call sign: MMHE5
MMSI number: 232669000
Status: In service
General characteristics
Tonnage: 6,767 GT
Length: 105 m (344 ft)[1]
Beam: 19.2 m (63 ft)
Draft: 6 m (20 ft)
Installed power: 6,532 kW
Speed: 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h; 16.7 mph)
Capacity: 128 passengers, 1,800 tonnes cargo
Crew: 56 officers and crew
Notes: Operated on behalf of Royal Mail Group Ltd (UK)

RMS St Helena is a cargo liner (carrying cargo and passengers) that serves the British overseas territory of Saint Helena. She sails between Cape Town and Saint Helena with regular shuttles continuing to Ascension Island. Some voyages also serve Walvis Bay en route to/from, or occasionally instead of, Cape Town. She visited Portland, Dorset twice a year with normal calls in the Spanish ports of Vigo (Northbound) and Tenerife (Southbound) until 14 October 2011, when she set sail on her final voyage from the English port.[2] She is one of only four ships in the world still carrying the status of Royal Mail Ship.


Formerly, Saint Helena island was occasionally served by ships of the Union-Castle Line, which ran between the UK and South Africa. By the 1970s the number of ships taking this route had declined significantly and Union-Castle withdrew from the route completely at the end of 1977. As Saint Helena lacked an airfield, the British government had to purchase a ship to service the remote island and its dependencies from Cape Town.

The British government purchased the part passenger, part cargo ship Northland Prince to fulfil the role of servicing Saint Helena, and after being refitted and renamed this became the first RMS St Helena. Originally built in 1963, this converted 3,150 ton ship had room to carry 76 passengers and supplies. The ship was used by the Royal Navy during the Falklands War as a minesweeper support ship. By the 1980s it was becoming apparent that the ship was too small for the island's needs, resulting in the new St Helena, built in 1989.[3]


The new RMS St Helena was built by Hall, Russell & Company in Aberdeen, and entered service in 1990. St Helena is a British registered Class 1 passenger/cargo ship, and operates with 56 officers and crew.

St Helena is equipped to carry a wide range of cargo, including liquids, to meet the needs of the population of Saint Helena. She also has berths for 128 passengers and associated facilities including a swimming pool, shop, and lounges.[4] She also has well-equipped medical facilities and an on-board doctor.

The ship's capacity was extended in 2012 by the addition of 24 extra cabin berths and a new gym.


In November 1999 St Helena broke down en route to the island and was forced into the French port of Brest to undergo repairs. Many people were left stranded on the island with no way in or out whilst the ship was being repaired. Panic ensued as islanders became concerned about the non-delivery of vital supplies.[5] This incident intensified calls for the island to be provided with an airport.

On 25 August 2000, St Helena suffered a minor engine room fire while sailing from Cardiff to Tenerife on the first leg of her journey to the island. No one was injured and there was no significant damage.[6]


In 2005 the British government announced plans to construct an airport on Saint Helena, which was initially expected to be operational by 2010, which would lead to the withdrawal from service of the RMS St Helena. This project was paused though, until in October 2011 approval of the project was announced, with work commencing in 2012. The estimated cost on the project is £240 million and the airport was due to open in the first quarter of 2016. However, due to concerns about wind shear, on 26 April 2016 the St. Helena Government announced an indefinite postponement to the opening of Saint Helena Airport. RMS St Helena had been placed for disposal via London shipbrokers CW Kellock, but for the time being it is continuing in service.[7]

The voyage originally intended as her final one began on 14 June 2016 from the UK and ended on 15 July in Cape Town, calling at Tenerife, Ascension Island and St Helena.[8][9] As part of its farewell voyage, Royal Mail organised a letter exchange with pupils from Cardiff and St Helena.[10] However, due to the postponed opening of the airport, the schedule of RMS St Helena was extended as an interim measure.[11] Currently, the ship is scheduled to run until July 2017.[12]



  1. ^ "RMS Specifications". Web.archive.org. 2009-12-27. Archived from the original on 27 December 2009. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  2. ^ "RMS St Helena sets sail for final time | News". Wanderlust. 2011-10-14. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  3. ^ http://sainthelenaisland.info/rms.htm
  4. ^ http://www.rms-st-helena.com/lifeonboard.html Archived 16 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine.‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› 
  5. ^ "Africa | Give us an airport, say islanders". BBC News. 1999-11-10. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  6. ^ "Fire in engine room of passenger vessel RMS St Helena Marine Accident Investigation Branch report - GOV.UK". Maib.gov.uk. 2000-08-25. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  7. ^ "RMS St Helena to make last voyage - Travel News | IOL Travel". Iol.co.za. 2015-05-09. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  8. ^ "Final Voyages". RMS St Helena. Retrieved 2016-06-19. 
  9. ^ "RMS St Helena says farewell to UK for last time". ITV News. 14 June 2016. Retrieved 2016-06-19. 
  10. ^ "Royal Mail marks farewell voyage of RMS St Helena". 500years.royalmailgroup.com. 13 June 2016. Retrieved 2016-06-19. 
  11. ^ "Maintaining access to St Helena & Ascension". St Helena Government. 3 June 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  12. ^ August Graham (2016-07-14). "RMS Extended to July" (PDF). The Sentinel. p. 2. Retrieved 2016-08-06. 


  • Bryant, John (2016). RMS St Helena: Royal Mail Ship Extraordinary. Ramsey, Isle of Man: Ferry Publications. ISBN 9781911268024. 
  • Cookson, Ted (2004). A diary of the final cruise of the RMS St. Helena to Tristan da Cunha, January 15-28, 2004. Greenville, Maine: Moosehead Communications. ISBN 1890454281. 

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