British ship embarks on final voyage to St Helena

A British ship that was once a lifeline to the outside world for St Helena is making its last voyage to the remote South Atlantic island where Napoleon died in exile.

The RMS St Helena's route for the last three decades is being phased out because a South African airline started a weekly commercial flight in October after the delayed opening of an airport on the volcanic island, and flights could become more frequent if there is demand.

Until last year, the "royal mail" vessel had been the only regular way to reach British-ruled St Helena for passengers who spent nearly a week at sea after departure from the South African city of Cape Town.

Ahead of the ship's final departure from Cape Town on Wednesday, diplomats, tourism officials and crew members mingled at an on-board reception.

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Kedell Worboys, a representative of St Helena, described the vessel as much more than "a load of metal" for the 4,000 inhabitants of the island that lies about 1,930 kilometres (1,200 miles) west of the border between Angola and Namibia, the nearest mainland.

The ship is "an extension of St Helena", he said.

Ship mechanic Lionel Peters agreed, saying the RMS St Helena will be "really missed by many people on the island".

St Helena's leadership hopes the new air link will bring more tourists to enjoy its distant attractions, including the home where deposed French emperor Napoleon lived from his exile after the battle of Waterloo in 1815 until his death in 1821.

St Helena's new airport (Royal Navy/PA)
St Helena's new airport (Royal Navy/PA)

Another vessel will transport only cargo about once a month to the island after the RMS St Helena, which was built in 1989, ends its final round-trip journey of three weeks to St Helena and Ascension, another British-ruled island.

About 100 passengers are travelling on this last voyage; there are berths for 156 passengers and 56 crew members.