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In the pre-dawn hours last Wednesday morning, February 13, a fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the fish processing factory on Tristan da Cunha. The blaze ruined the major source of employment and wages in the settlement, plus it consumed the primary generator of electric power on the island.

By the time the blaze was spotted and the fire truck arrived, the factory was engulfed in flames. The only thing to do was to allow it to burn out. Luckily, the wind was out of the southwest, so the large diesel tanks on the upwind side of the building were spared. No one was injured.

Fortunately, the fishing season has ended, so the loss of income to the community will not be felt just yet. Also, the island has a standby generator, which was quickly moved into place and connected on Wednesday afternoon. The hospital has its own emergency generator. The tristandc.com website, the best source for news about the event, has numerous dramatic photos showing the charred remains of the factory and the beginnings of the clean up work.

The island Administrator, David Morley, indicated that electric power from the standby generator should be limited to essential needs. He urged residents to use as little power as possible, since the generator does not have the capacity for everyone to use their normal amount of electricity. He advised the community that power will be available from 6:30 in the morning until 1800 hours ( 6:00 p.m.) in the evening.

The island pub, however, will be open in the evenings from 1800 until 19:30 hours. Telephone service will only be available when the power is on, and the television and Internet connections will be closed until further notice. The island store will also be closed, with essential supplies available through a rationing system.

Mr. Morley and Andrew James, the Managing Director of Ovenstone Agencies (Pty) Ltd, the South African firm that owns the fishing factory, are working closely to provide a full service generator to the community as quickly as possible. On Friday, February 15, Morley announced that the company manager has obtained a new generator, and he is hoping to get it into Capetown so the RFA Lyme Bay will be able to take it to Tristan by the end of this month. He expects that the arrival of the new generator will allow the community to return to normal electric usage.

Morley also announced Friday that “Operation Zest,” to repair and improve the small harbor, which was discussed in the news quite recently, will not be disrupted. The Royal Engineers, who are hoping to arrive with their equipment on the Lyme Bay at the end of February, will bring their own generators with them, so their project will not be dependent on community electricity. Other emergency repairs are being addressed.

The Administrator added that Ovenstone is committed to building a new, and more modern, fish processing facility. The plans are to build a completely modern factory that meets EU standards, with an improved holding tank and processing capabilities. The earliest that Ovenstone can realistically expect to open a new factory will be the end of 2008 or early 2009.

“It is Ovenstone’s intention to work with the community to overcome this disaster to the mutual benefit of both partners,” Mr. Morley wrote. “I want the community to know how seriously Ovenstone is treating this matter and that they are fully committed to building better-than-ever facilities.”

The original fish factory, built in 1949, was destroyed by a lava flow from the volcanic eruption in 1961. The one that burned last week was built to replace it, when the Islanders returned to their community in 1963. The Islanders do all the fishing—for crawfish—in the waters off the island, and they provide the work force for the processing and freezing operations. The crawfish, also called crayfish, are marketed as “Tristan Rock Lobsters.”

Mr. Morley said that work crews had been able to bury the ruined crawfish in a landfill. He announced that, despite the severe limits on the use of electricity, there is enough power to operate the pump on the community swimming pool. The children should be able to continue taking advantage of the beautiful summer weather.