Basil Read CEO Marius Heyns. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Basil Read CEO Marius Heyns. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

CONSTRUCTION and engineering group Basil Read has been awarded two further contracts to extend work already done on the St Helena Airport in the middle of the Atlantic, the group said on Monday.

The airport at St Helena will end the island’s near isolation and mark the end of an era — the world’s last mail ship, the RMS St Helena, will cease to operate.

The British government hopes its investment will promote tourism to the island, perhaps reducing its £25m annual subsidy.

Basil Read began the airport’s construction early last year. The two new contracts boosted the project price tag to £265m from £250m, said Basil Read in a statement.

The 128km² St Helena, home to just more than 4,250 people, is a British Overseas Territory, part of a region that comprises St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The island has been served by the RMS St Helena since the late 1970s, when the number of Union-Castle line ships passing the island had declined significantly.

Project director Jimmy Johnston said the construction was "bread and butter work" for Basil Read, but St Helena being "2,000km off the nearest piece of Africa" complicated the logistics. In addition, there was no direct ship landing infrastructure when work began.

The construction group had leased and adapted a vessel and put in place a small landing facility and was shipping supplies from Namibia’s Walvis Bay.

"(We are) pleased to have secured these additional contracts especially since the company is already active in the construction of the airport on St Helena Island", Basil Read CEO Marius Heyns said. "Enormous progress has been made in the past two years on phase one, in terms of the airport and preparations in general across St Helena," he said.

The first contract was the £15.3m design and construction of a permanent wharf on the island’s Rupert’s Bay, part of the overall airport project.

The second, was the £864,410 construction of a landfill site.

Enterprise St Helena commercial property director Stuart Planner said that the wharf was essential to the island because it would "deal with our shipping needs after the airport is completed".

The airport’s completion was scheduled for February 2016.

It would mark "significant change" for the island, Mr Planner said. Ships stopping at St Helena had to moor off-shore, and the island was in the process of identifying partner shipping companies to serve it after the airport’s launch.

He said that Enterprise St Helena was "delighted" Basil Read had gained the contracts. "They are already here, they know the island and they are doing very, very well out at the airport."