In March 2015 COWI has performed a transport study for the Ascension Island Government in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. It is an extremely remote area with a low demand for civil transport and at very high costs. Except for the climate near Equator we found many similarities to Greenland in the Arctic. We also found that many of our previous experiences within transport, supply and economics could be adapted to this assignment.
Read the rest of the story of the development of transportation in one of the worlds most remote nations.
Ascension Island is an isolated volcanic island around 1,600 kilometres from the coast of Africa and 2,250 kilometres from the coast of South America. It is governed as part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. There are no native population on Ascension but app. 900 people lives and works there and the local school has app. 100 pupils. Most of the workers come from St Helena located app. 1,300 kilometres to the southeast. The native population from St. Helena (called “Saints”), who are working on Ascension, travels home on vacation only once a year in average.
The location of Ascension Island makes it important for very different reasons. To the Royal Air Force (RAF) it serves as a fuel stop on the way to Falklands Islands. The BBC World Services relays shortwave radio to 30 million receivers in Africa. The space administrations, ESA and NASA, tracks rocket stages and satellites passing overhead. There are also some large intercontinental seafloor communication cables meeting at the Ascension Island. The US Air Force is also present at Ascension, however, the reason is classified.
The existing transport system
The only scheduled direct transport service between Ascension Island and St. Helena is the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St. Helena. This vessel calls at Ascension Island app. 16 times per year as part of its three-week round trip schedule:
Cape Town (South Africa) – St. Helena – Ascension Island – St. Helena – Cape Town.
The ship carries passengers and cargo between the islands and is the primary means of transporting fresh food to Ascension Island.
The only other scheduled transport links to/from Ascension Island are the sea and air links to the United Kingdom (UK), the Falkland Islands and the United States of America (US), which are all under military control. These links also carry some civilian passengers and cargo although military needs are always prioritised.
The future transport challenge
The opening of the new St Helena Airport in 2016 (today there is no airport), and the decision to simultaneously cease the operation of the RMS St Helena, leaves Ascension Island in a completely new situation. Consequently, new inter-island transport options have been investigated.
COWI’s scope was primarily to:
- Validate the demand for transport between Ascension Island and St Helena in the short term and to present the perspectives in the longer term, especially taking the development of St Helena Airport into consideration
- Assess potential replacement inter-island transport options; what capacity and frequency they offer
- Analyse the most relevant options with regard to annual financial costs for passenger transport from Ascension to St. Helena and for transport of goods between the islands
- Recommend an implementation plan and procurement strategy for securing transport services
Do you want to know more?
Jesper Nordskilde, Chief Specialist, COWI, Urban Planning and Transport
+45 5640 1106