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Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 20:08 GMT

World: Africa

Give us an airport, say islanders

People on the remote island of St Helena are pressing to be given an airport after their only supply ship broke down.

Panic-buying has started in shops in the South Atlantic territory, where nearly all food is imported. Margarine and long-life milk already selling out.

The BBC's Jane Warr: "The only supply line to the island is the HMS St Helena"
The Royal Mail Ship St Helena was taking cargo and passengers to the tiny British territory, more than 1,600 km off the coast of Angola, when one of its engines failed.

It is now awaiting repairs in the French port of Brest. It will be about at least month before she reaches the island.

Around 60 of the passengers bound for home are sitting out the delay; 35 tourists have abandoned their cruise.

Some islanders are stranded in South Africa with little money.

Demands for an airport

The breakdown has intensified the long-running debate over the island's lack of an airport.

It has come only two weeks after a cargo ship diverted for 36 hours to pick up six-year-old Danni Clifford, who'd collapsed with acute leukaemia.

[ image: Danni arrives in South Africa for treatment]
Danni arrives in South Africa for treatment
She is now in Cape Town and is expected to recover - a great relief to the 5,500 island residents.

But the front page of the St Helena News is asking, "Does it take a death to end our isolation?"

The new Governor, David Hollamby, has said it may make economic sense to build an airport when the ship needs replacing, but that's 10 years away.

Waiting for Christmas

More immediately, there's a chance some Christmas mail will arrive late.

St Helenians are used to this - last year's presents only arrived in April, because the British Post Office missed several sailings.

The residents of St Helena, best known as the site of Napoleon's final exile, depend for a living on fish exports and ship maintenance.

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