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Ascension celebrates 26 years of the RMS St Helena

The arrival of the RMS St Helena last weekend should have signalled the final call of the ship at Ascension.  However, as we all know, the ship is due to make a few more stops at the island before it is able to sail off into retirement.  The reprieve did not stop the planned celebrations taking place and on Sunday evening the people of Ascension came together with the Captain and crew of the ship to thank them for the 26 years of dedicated service to the islands of Ascension and St Helena.  The warehouse and passenger terminal at the Pier Head were given a nautical makeover, specially designed by Marie-Anne Dennis; appropriately making all who have sailed on the ship feel immediately at home. Over 500 people came along for a fantastic evening of food, drink and music.

The Administrator and Captain both welcomed everyone to the evening’s celebrations with speeches, which we have re-printed below.  The Administrator said:

“Ladies, Gentlemen, Captain and Members of the RMS Crew

“Welcome aboard the RMS St Helena on Ascension!  Haven’t the AIG team done a wonderful job decking out the warehouse in the style of the RMS? Let’s show them our appreciation.

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“Of course, tonight was meant to be a retirement party – to celebrate the final call of the RMS St Helena in Ascension before she sails off into retirement.  But windshear at St Helena’s airport has stirred things up a bit, and instead, we are now throwing a birthday party: to celebrate the RMS’s 26 years of dedicated service to Ascension and St Helena.

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“Captain Rodney, Ascension wants to say thank you to you and the crew for everything you have done for the South Atlantic islands over the years.  It’s fantastic that so many of the crew we all know well and love have been able to come ashore – a rare treat for Ascension these days.  And our American cousins even closed the runway in your honour (!), meaning you need to stay an extra night to pick up your connecting passengers and everyone can have a lie in in the morning, which the Governor has declared a bank holiday!

“At my speech at the recent Queen’s Birthday Party, I likened the RMS to an ageing rock band on its final world tour, having just got back from the London gig. I saw the RMS come through Tower Bridge.  Just as the bridge went up, the dark clouds lifted and the sun came out for a moment.  The crew were waving from the deck.  It was a very emotional occasion.  I was standing on the south bank of the Thames just along from HMS Belfast and suddenly I heard the familiar lilt of Saint voices all around me, including from Rodney’s family who were shouting: ‘Look, there’s Uncle Rodney!’  Everyone was smiling and waving.  There was a tremendous feeling of pride and community spirit.  And, just like a Rolling Stones tour, the RMS has been sold out for months, so SHG have now released extra dates until September with more perhaps to follow!

“I know this is not the final time we will see the RMS sail off from Clarence Bay.  But the reprieve we have been given will pass quickly.  I would still like to pause a moment to consider what the RMS means to us all.

“I have been fortunate enough to have been on 3 voyages on the RMS.  I’m glad I did.  I only really understood what this splendid vessel meant to people on Ascension when I experienced it myself.  It’s more than just a means of getting to your destination safely and the chance to enjoy some good food.  The RMS is a gentle introduction to island life – the genteel pace, where people have time for conversations, to tell stories and to take afternoon tea.  Where you join the ship as strangers and leave with new friends.

“For your time on board you join a well-functioning family unit.  The crew look after you and keep you in check if you step out of line.  My family and I had fabulous support from Rodney and the crew on the Christmas voyage to Cape Town when 3 of my children did not have the right type of birth certificate to clear South African immigration.  Even though we enjoyed our RMS journey, we would not have been happy to miss our holiday in South Africa and be sent back to Ascension!

“For many Saints, wherever life takes you, all paths will converge on the RMS.  The RMS is the bridge over which anyone wanting to get to or from St Helena must pass.  For many Saints, it signifies going home and the start of a holiday.  But it’s more than that – it has great emotional significance.  It is entwined with life events.  If you are leaving home in search of riches or love abroad; if you are getting married and are going on honeymoon; if you are taking a new baby to see its grand-mother or if you are accompanying a loved one to get urgent medical attention, you travel on the RMS.  As I saw with the moving ceremony for Mycle ‘Dook’ Williams at the pier head 18 months ago, it’s also how some Saints make their final voyage.

“The RMS is a constant – whatever life throws at you.  Just like for some Christmas might be a marker of the passage of time, the annual journey on the RMS is a time to take stock of what has happened in your and your family’s life.

“Of course for Ascension, the RMS has had a practical purpose.  It’s been the lifeline for the civilian population.  It’s how the employers get their work force to their place of work.  It is how the shop gets its fresh food.  It’s how people send their things, whether gifts for the family or their life’s possessions home.  Thank goodness it will continue for a while yet!

“In a moment I will ask Captain Rodney Young to give some personal reflections about his time on board the RMS and perhaps tell us about the recent celebrations in the UK.  I am delighted that Rodney has invited our school children aboard tomorrow to look around.  And those who have tirelessly and safely worked ship over the years will be the RMS’s guests for afternoon tea tomorrow.

“And finally, I would like to say thank you to those who made this evening’s party possible.  Thank you to Kitty for the idea, Catherine, Marie-Anne, Steve and his team for organising the party.  Thanks to Two Boats School and our school children for the artwork.  Isn’t it fantastic? Thanks too to SHG/AWS for allowing the ship to stay at Ascension overnight and above all to Rodney and the crew for wanting to join us.  Enjoy the party!”

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Captain Rodney Young then took the opportunity to address everyone. He began by saying: “I have just received a message to say that the RMS schedule will be extended until Lyn and Eileen Leo leaves Ascension.

“When I first visited Ascension Island it was a very different place to what it is today. You had a better chance in those days of getting into the White House than getting ashore here.The Island was ruled by King Ron Field and John Taylor, you had to be sponsored, and timings were strict, there was no overnight shore leave.

“I worked with Ralph Peters, and Peter Peters, with Scipio and of course the unforgettable Dave Caine.   But times have moved on and here we are tonight being entertained by the Government and People of Ascension Island, on as you put it our final world tour, and I thank you most sincerely for this kind invitation.

“We have just completed a trip to the UK and to our home port of London, where we able entertain a large number of people, including yourself, the Administrator of Tristan and the Deputy Governor of St Helena, and of course Princess Anne, who left us in no doubt that she prefers sea travel to air travel.

“As ships’ staff we had a difficult task at these functions as we had to promote an Island which has an airport that doesn’t work, a ship that is about to be withdrawn and had to ask people to come and live in hotels that had not been built, but somehow we did it and got away with it.

“For the last 26 years we have been working on that wonderful passenger ship the RMS, but it now feels like its turning into a film set, and we are all starring in film called ‘Carry on Regardless’, because we don’t know when it is going to end, we have Tee shirts printed, the plaques engraved, but with all the wrong dates, a count down clock that should today be showing 12 days to go,  which a few days back, some bright spark changed to 901 days to go. St Helena has its windshear problems, and last week there was severe turbulence in the Customs shed.

“The RMS is nearing the ends of its life here in the South Atlantic, and I know that the people here on Ascension will miss it, especially the bingo, the shop, the perfumes, British chocolate, and the BBQs, but most of all you will miss the 4-cube, how are the people of Ascension going to live without the 4-cube allowance?  I cannot wait to see you all turning up at the airport with these boxes. If ever I write a book about the RMS, I will have to have few chapters on baggage; Saints will never understand that a 3 piece suite or a washing machine is not cabin baggage.

“So ladies and gentlemen on behalf of the all the crew thank you once again for this kind invitation tonight, and to say how impressed we are with this wonderfully decorated hall. And that I understand that only the older children are visiting tomorrow, and not the younger ones, but I will arrange with Kitty to have the young children to come to the RMS in the months ahead.”

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A selection of photographs taken from the buffet lunch hosted by Captain Young on board the ship on Monday, 4 July.  A very big thank you to Captain Young and the crew of the RMS St Helena for their hospitality while in port as they also hosted pupils from Two Boats School as well as laying on afternoon tea for AIG ship workers.

 

Ascension Hydroponics Site Opens

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The Ascension Island Government has officially opened a hydroponics site to produce good quality veg and salad crops for sale to the people of Ascension. The site is located below Two Boats and has been developed by AIG’s Hydroponics Consultant, Stephen Herron. The hydroponics site welcomed over 150 people through its doors over the ‘open’ weekend of 25-26 June 2016 to allow the wider community to find out more about how the veg is grown and what is available. Feedback from the visitors was very overwhelmingly positive. The Administrator and Stephen Herron then officially declared the site open at a well-attended launch event on Monday 27 June, with representatives from across the island community present.

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Securing a supply of fresh salad and vegetable produce for the island has been high on the Government’s priorities. Up to now, islanders have relied on the monthly call of the RMS St Helena for a limited supply of fruit and veg from South Africa. With the future decommissioning of the RMS, there was a real concern about the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables on the island.

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Marc Holland, Ascension Administrator, commented “AIG fully acknowledges the importance of fresh produce for the health and wellbeing of the people working on Ascension. Hydroponics allows us to take advantage of the Island’s benign climate to produce our own veg on island. Local production means fresher veg, lower prices and a constant supply.”

Following a handover from consultant Stephen Herron, Ascension Hydroponic Services will now be headed up by the Site Manager, Regan Tourond, who has recently arrived on island. Regan has substantial growing experience around the world including in Canada and South-East Asia. Regan said: ‘This is not the first time Ascension has been home to hydroponics and the stable climate makes this a great place to grow using this system’.

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How does hydroponics work?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. This allows for very efficient growing conditions, as the plants are not threatened by the pests and disease that can be found in the soil and the process actually uses less water than traditional farming, as none of it is absorbed into the soil.

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Currently the site is using mains water to grow the produce; in the future we would like to use collected rain water to assist in this process.

 

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Mixed salad, baby leaf lettuce and Pak Choi make up the main produce grown currently. These crops have a quick turnaround and are straight forward to grow. AIG will be looking to expand the selection available in the near future, once the collection of rainwater has been established. This will allow for the growth of more water-hungry produce such as root vegetables and fruit. The produce will be sold from Solomon’s Georgetown store and from JAMS in Two Boats and to the Island’s clubs and food outlets. A delivery schedule will be arranged with the stores and clubs to ensure a continuous supply.

 

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UK Overseas Territories join forces with Internet Watch Foundation to fight online child sexual abuse imagery

Ascension has launched a dedicated IWF Reporting Portal, to allow web users to report images and videos of child sexual abuse safely and anonymously.

The launch comes as part of an IWF initiative made possible by funding from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Cyber Security Capacity Building Programme. It will provide a quick and easy way for citizens to report online images and videos of child sexual abuse, to a safe and anonymous hotline.

A planned roll-out of the IWF Reporting Portal is happening simultaneously in 12 UK Overseas Territories. IWF Reporting Portals have already been successfully established in Mauritius and Uganda.

Susie Hargreaves, IWF CEO says: “It’s great that Ascension has joined this ground-breaking initiative, to provide a first class Reporting Portal to protect their citizens. Child sexual abuse imagery is a global problem and we can only fight it with a truly global solution.”

What is the IWF Reporting Portal?

By working closely with internet companies, the IWF helps people who stumble across online child sexual abuse images and videos [sometimes known as child pornography] to report it anonymously, via a web-based reporting Hotline.

Ascension’s IWF Reporting Portal can be found here.

A team of experienced IWF analysts then work directly with the internet industry and law enforcement, to have any abusive imagery removed quickly.

The advantage of establishing an IWF Reporting Portal is that any reports of suspected online child sexual abuse imagery generated in  Ascension will be assessed directly by one of IWF’s analysts. These analysts are respected globally for their experience.

Today, the IWF Hotline provides one of the most successful reporting mechanisms in the world. When they were founded 20 years ago, 18% of the world’s online child sexual abuse imagery was hosted in the UK. Thanks to their analysts, that figure is now 0.2%. These analysts are considered world-leaders for their expertise.

Harriet Lester, the IWF’s Technical Projects Officer working with Rob Parfrey says: “The launch of the Reporting Portal in Ascension is a huge step towards our mission to remove child abuse images and video [sometimes known as child pornography] from the internet completely. The response from people here has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re looking forward to helping them make their corner of the internet a safer place.”

Watch this short video which explains what the IWF Reporting Portal is and how it works.

Read more about Ascension’s IWF Reporting Portal.

The IWF in Ascension

The IWF has worked closely with AIG & the Police. UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, James Duddridge says: “This demonstrates the Overseas Territories commitment to protecting children from harm and builds on the excellent work of the Internet Watch Foundation, who remove child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world. I am delighted the FCO, through our Cyber Security Capacity Building programme, have been able to support this.”

Ascension Island Social Worker, Rob Parfrey, said “Being able to use IWF to help protect children while online and raise their awareness of internet safety is a worthwhile and needed project on our technologically developing island. The IWF have been professional and supportive in rolling out this service “.

Online child sexual abuse images and videos are a very real problem across the globe. The IWF brings together governments, law enforcement, the online industry and civil society to do what’s needed to eliminate images of child sexual abuse from the Internet.

In 2015 (figures published in April 2016) the IWF positively identified 68, 092 reports of child sexual abuse images or videos, which it then helped remove from the internet. From that figure, 69% of the victims were assessed as ten years old or under. 1788 victims were assessed as two or under. Just over one third were category A – the rape or sexual torture of children.

Removing these abusive images from the internet makes it a safer place for all.

What IWF do:

IWF make the internet a safer place. They help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. They search for child sexual abuse images and videos and offer a place for the public to report them anonymously. Then then have them removed. They’re a not for profit organisation and are supported by the global internet industry and the European Commission.

For more information please visit www.iwf.org.uk.

The IWF is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, working with Childnet International and the South West Grid for Learning to promote the safe and responsible use of technology.

Administrator’s Visit to St Helena

On 20-22 May, the Administrator, Marc Holland, travelled to St Helena on the RMS shuttle to meet the new Governor, Lisa Philips, and to discuss issues around the new St Helena airport. In discussions, the Governor reiterated that a passenger and freight service between the islands would be maintained whilst the issue of wind shear was resolved.  The Administrator visited the runway and toured the state of the art terminal buildings and control tower.

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In other business, the Administrator met the Chief of Police, Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary, the Director of ESH and the new Director of Safeguarding. A common theme that emerged from the meetings was how the two islands could work more closely together, for example by marketing the two islands together to tourists. The Administrator also joined the Governor for the St Helena Day celebrations and an impressive 20 minute firework display. On his return to Ascension, he hosted a lunch for the Head of the Governor’s Office, Sean Burns and St Helena Councillors, Lawson Henry & Pamela Ward-Pearce who were travelling on the RMS’ last voyage to London.

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Maintaining Access to St Helena and Ascension

The St Helena Government issued this press release on Thursday 3 June 2016.

Following certification of St Helena Airport on Tuesday 10 May 2016, all parties are working to overcome the challenges of wind shear identified by the first few flights into the Airport. This work includes the development of appropriate operational procedures needed to allow services to use the northern Runway (20), where wind shear has been identified, as well as options for using the southern Runway (02), where wind shear has not been identified.

While this work continues, we recognise there are St Helenians in Cape Town, the UK and Ascension who are ready to return to St Helena and do not have a confirmed means of doing so. Others will be planning journeys in the coming weeks.

SHG will therefore honour its commitment to maintain access by extending the service of the RMS as an interim measure and for a limited period until air services begin. This service will be for passengers and freight. The schedule can be viewed at:  http://rms-st-helena.com/schedules-fares/ and bookings will be accepted from Monday 6 June 2016.

This situation will be kept under review and should an air access solution be found quickly, we would need to reassess the plans for the RMS St Helena.

The public will continue to be informed of progress.

SHG

3 June 2016

Read this press release on the SHG website

 

 

Lisa Phillips sworn in as Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

The RMS St Helena arrived in James’ Bay on Monday 25 April, bringing with her the new Governor Designate for St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha – Ms Lisa Phillips.

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 Ms Phillips is the 68th Governor of St Helena and her Dependencies and the first ever female to take on the role. She was sworn in this afternoon, just after 2pm, Monday 25 April 2016.

The familiar music of the Scout’s Band signaled the opening of the Inauguration Ceremony, which was also marked by the traditional parade of the St Helena Police, Sea Rescue Service, Fire Service, Guides, Brownies and Rainbows, Scouts and Beavers and the Seventh Day Adventist Pathfinders. The Salvation Army Band and members, the Get-togethers Orchestra, Customs Officers, Nurses and a group of schoolchildren were also present.

At 2pm the Governor Designate arrived at the Grand Parade, accompanied by the Aide de Camp, Debbie Stroud, who escorted her to the stage in front of the Supreme Court Terrace, where she was received by Chief Secretary Roy Burke. 

The Chief Secretary read the Royal Commission appointing Lisa Phillips as Governor of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha. This was followed by the Administering of Oaths by St Helena’s Sheriff, Ethel Yon OBE, who also read the Address of Welcome.

In her reply to the Sheriff and her address to the public, Governor Phillips remarked:

“Since I found out I was coming here, anyone I met told me there are three things they knew about St Helena.  First, your famous previous resident, Napoleon, Second, your famous current resident, Jonathan. And third the new Airport.  In a way, they are perhaps indicative of the past present and future of the Island.  I am tremendously excited about the Airport. Having spent more years than I care to mention in DFID I am acutely aware of the history of the Airport from the inside, with all its twists and turns.  Never did I imagine I would be the first Governor to fly in and out of the Island.  I am proud to have that privilege in store for me….and talking of firsts I am also very proud to be your first female Governor.”

The full press release can be found here.

Beacon lit on Ascension Island to celebrate Queen’s 90th birthday

A beacon was lit at nightfall last night, Thursday 21 April 2016, to celebrate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen.

 

The beacon had been especially made for the occasion and was located at Fort Thornton in Georgetown. Children from the youth organisations, along with members of the local community, gathered at the fort to see the beacon being lit. The evening featured a short speech from Ascension’s Administrator, Marc Holland. Mr Holland also read a message from HRH The Prince of Wales about the significance of the occasion. Mr Johnny Hobson entertained the crowd with some information about The Queen’s preferences. A short chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ was also sung.

Ascension Wishes a Happy 90th Birthday to her Majesty The Queen

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There is a long and unbroken tradition in our country of celebrating Royal jubilees, weddings, coronations and special birthdays with the lighting of beacons – on top of mountains, churches and castle battlements, on towns and village greens, farms, country parks and estates, and along the beaches surrounding our shores.

The last major beacon celebration was on Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on 4 June 2012, when Ascension lit its beacon at the Turtle Ponds by Long Beach.

There will be a further opportunity to celebrate today, Thursday 21 April 2016, when beacons will be lit throughout the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and UK Overseas Territories in celebration of her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday.

Bruno Peek, LVO, OBE, OPR, Pageantmaster, The Queen’s 90th Birthday Beacons said, “It has been a enormous privilege to be able to organise this amazing community event to celebrate the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty The Queen. I am delighted to see so many different organisations playing their part.”

Ascension will be lighting its own beacon shortly after nightfall this evening on top of Fort Thornton. This is being done with all the Youth Organisations – Beavers, Rainbows, Cubs, Brownies, Guides and Scouts. All from the community are welcome to attend to show their support.

 

Ascension featured on BBC Radio 4

Ascension Island and the greening of Green Mountain is the theme of the latest programme in BBC Radio 4’s Costing The Earth series. First aired on Tuesday 19 March and now available as a podcast, presenter Peter Gibbs talks to Ascension’s conservationists about the struggle to cope with invasive species running riot and the rescue of Ascension’s tiny endemic ferns, as well as enjoying an encounter with nesting turtles on the beaches and a wander among the chattering ‘wideawakes’ on the sweltering lava plains by the coast.

Download The Mars of the Mid-Atlantic as a podcast.