Former mail ship transformed into logistics hub at Cammell Laird

Wilson Ship Management has overseen a complete overhaul of St Helena at the Birkenhead yard to turn it into a logistics hub for the new Extreme E global off-road racing series. Tony McDonough reports

St Helena
St Helena will be the logistics hub for Extreme E. Picture by Phil Owen


A former Royal Mail ship has become the logistics hub of the new global off-road racing series after undergoing a total refit at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead.

Extreme E is a proposed off-road racing series, due to begin next year, which will see electric SUVs race in remote parts of the world with locations set to include Greenland and Nepal.

A dry dock at Cammell Laird was used to base the vessel St Helena while it underwent a complete overhaul and transformation overseen by Wilson Ship Management, employing a team of 30 people.

Extreme E secured exclusive use of the former Royal Mail ship in 2018 and the overhaul has included new steelwork, engines, generators, propellors, interior and cabin space, and more, making it not only fit for purpose, but also as efficient as possible ahead of its new mission.

Project leader Austen Brunton, said: “Everything you see on St Helena has been touched. As a 30-year old ship she needed quite a lot of work to get her ready for her new role with Extreme E and some adaptions to make her suitable for both passenger and cargo use.”

St Helena started life as a Royal Mail ship for the island of St Helena and was the only transportation for both people and cargo to and from Cape Town. Before an airport was built in 2016, the vessel was the only link to the outside world for the island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

She was selected by Extreme E as its freight and logistics hub due to her versatility and ability to carry a mixture of cargo, for example, the championship’s cars as well as team members – there are 62 cabins on board.

The series chose to purchase the ship as moving the championship’s freight via sea will reduce emissions by two thirds in comparison to air freight.

St Helena
St Helena in dry dock at Cammell Laird


The list of work that has gone into the refit is extensive, with 30 tonnes of steelwork added to repair damage, and also create new elements to the ship, for example, the original 20 square metre swimming pool has been replaced with a Science Laboratory, so research can be conducted en route.

This is a key element of Extreme E which looks to use its sporting platform to shine a spotlight on climate change issues, and solutions, around the world. Efficiency has been a major element of the refit.

Her engines have been stripped and all components have been renewed or replaced and she will now run on low sulphur marine diesel, known as Champagne in the industry. The propellers have also been refurbished to reduce friction and improve efficiency.

The outside has been repainted with the Extreme E logo emblazoned on the side. The underwater hull is painted in the most up-to-date red anti-fouling paint meaning it is kept clean and makes her more streamlined, which again reduces CO2 emissions.

Mr Brunton added: “Seeing St Helena re-enter the water is a very proud moment for myself and all my team. We have spent 18 months working on her to get her into this condition and it has been great to see her finally back on the water, where she belongs.

The ship’s refurbishment is due to be completed in the next two months, and she will be ready to set off on her new voyage early next year when the inaugural Extreme E season gets under way.

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