St. Helena is sufficiently rugged that an airstrip has never been built (and it is perhaps doubtful that one ever will be built). Consequently, the only access to the island is by sea. Until the 1970s St. Helena was a regular port of call for the ships of the Union Castle Line on their UK-South Africa route. With the rapid contraction and almost total disappearance of passenger shipping lines, including Union Castle, St. Helena was faced with the prospect of isolation. In response, the British Government purchased a ship specifically to serve St. Helena. Refitted and renamed, the part cargo, part passenger Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St. Helena came into service in 1978. The RMS was requisitioned during the Falklands war and served as a minesweeper support ship.
Originally built in 1963, the 3,150 ton RMS had cabin space for 76 passengers.
The RMS had inadequate passenger and cargo space and was nearing the end of her operational life. In 1986 the British Government announced plans to construct a new ship for St. Helena. After a number of fiascoes including bankruptcy of the builders and spiralling costs, the new ship was launched in 1989 and the "new" RMS St. Helena made her maiden voyage in late 1990.
The 6,000 ton ship has cabin space for 128 passengers.
The RMS is owned by St. Helena Shipping Lines and the contract for operating the ship is currently held by Andrew Weir Shipping. The Officers and crew are predominantly St. Helenian.
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