St. Helena island, an isolated British dependency where Napoleon spent his final years in prison, is facing a grim Christmas and millennium New Year's after its only supply ship broke down this month off France.
A spokesman for St. Helena/Curnow Shipping Ltd., which has operated the service since 1977, said the RMS St. Helena - the RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship - was in Brest, a western French port and naval base
, awaiting repairs that could last into next year.
"This is the only ship to the island and without it the island is in a crisis. It's a lifelink for the island," spokesman Tony Bownes said.
Press reports from St. Helena said there was already alarm.
"Margarine is unobtainable, cooking oil is scarce and other commodities are beginning to run out at the three small supermarkets in Jamestown, the capital," Johnny Drummond, editor of the St. Helena News, reported in an article.
The 6,767-ton ship had been traveling from the Welsh port of Cardiff to Tenerife in the Canary Islands and then to St. Helena and Cape Town when
a crankshaft in its starboard engine broke in the Bay of Biscay on Nov. 6.
There were about 93 passengers on the ship, of which 30 have cut short their trips and returned to Britain, while others decided to remain on board, Bownes said. He added that it would probably take a minimum of nine to 10 weeks for the vessel to be fixed and ready to resume its southbound journey, which began on Nov. 4.
"We're also looking internationally to find out if there's any available replacement ship we can charter while the RMS St. Helena is being repaired," Bownes said. He said RMS St. Helena was carrying essential supplies such as fruit, vegetables, building materials, medicine and beer.
St. Helena has no airport or airstrip. Everything is delivered by sea to the 47 sq mile (122 sq km) island for its residents, who number 5,500 and are known as "Saints."
St. Helena is 955 miles (1,537 km) south of the equator, 1,694 miles (2,726 km) west of Cape Town and 1,800 miles (2,900 km) from the coast of South America. Its main export is canned and frozen fish. - (Ellis Mnyandu, Reuters)