Tristan's lobster processing factory was destroyed by fire on 13th February 2008. This disrupted the island's electricity supply, although the diesel store was saved.

Factory Fire on 13th February 2008

Tristan da Cunha's Fishing Factory gutted by fire
on the night of 12th / 13th February 2008

Fishing is the Mainstay of the island's economy
for paid employment, royalties on sales
and providing 9/10 of the island's scheduled ships.

Explore this page to discover details of the fire and how the community is coping with the emergency situation.

Photograph of the fish processing factory
on a plateau above Calshot Harbour before the 2008 fire
This is a top to bottom page - to go to the Latest News Bulletin or scan from Day 1 below ...

Scene of devastation

Picture that says a thousand words....

Photograph by Administrator David Morley showing the burnt out shell of Tristan's fishing factory taken at 8.32 on Wednesday 13th February 2008.

Note left :
two of the
diesel storage tanks
remain intact and undamaged
as south-westerly winds
blew from left to right
across the factory site.


Local Shock and Dismay at Calamity of Factory Loss
Initial report from Administrator David Morley sent at 13.37 on Wednesday 13th February

"The alarm was raised at around 0400 this morning when the Factory was seen to be on fire.  A fierce south westerly meant that by the time the fire engine arrived, nothing could be done except to let the Factory burn itself out.
No one was hurt.  But the community is understandably shocked and dismayed at what has happened.  However, it could have been so much worse.  Had the wind been blowing in a different direction the diesel tanks would probably have gone up too.  And as the fishing season has ended, the loss of revenue to the island is minimised.
However, also destroyed were the generators used to provide the island with its 24-hour electricity supply.  Work is currently in hand to link the standby generator to the mains, so that islanders can keep their freezers going.  The hospital has its own standby generator.  Power will be rationed and carefully managed until new generators can be supplied by Ovenstone from Cape Town.
Ovenstone MD Andrew James was extremely relieved to hear that no one was hurt, and is dispatching a team to Tristan to report on the situation.
The MOD is currently assessing the implications of this calamity on Operation Zest."
(See Harbour News for details of Operation Zest)
Further photographs taken on the morning of Wednesday 13th February
from David Morley

show details of the Tristan fishing factory gutted by the overnight fire.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Press Release on 13th February

·        We can confirm that early on Wednesday 13 February there was a fire at the fish-processing factory on Tristan da Cunha.  This has, in turn, destroyed the generators that provide power to the island.  There were no injuries.  The cause of the fire is currently unknown.


·        Our Administrator on the island is working closely with Tristan’s Public Works Department to ensure that standby power is provided to essential services.


·        We are liaising with the factory owners, Ovenstone Agencies, in Cape Town, DfID and other procurement agencies to ensure that a replacement generator for the island is obtained quickly.  We hope that it will travel on the RFA Lyme Bay when it sails from Cape Town on its way down to Tristan before the end of February.

Public Notice issued by Administrator David Morley and posted in the village

1. Following last night’s fire at the Factory, we hope to restore electricity supplies to the community later today. But it is absolutely crucial that you use only the minimum. Too heavy a load on the standby generator will cause it to fail. So use gas as much as possible and only essential electrical appliances. If you use too much electricity we may need to disconnect the supply to all residences. So please be careful.

2. Once the supply has been restored, it will be turned off at 1800 hours each day, and switched on again at 0630 the following morning. This restriction will apply until further notice.

3. Inter-island and FTN telephone services have been restored, although they will go down when the electricity is switched off. Internet and the TV service are suspended until further notice.

4. The Island Store will be closed until further notice, although arrangements will be made for those who need to buy essential goods to do so. Candles and salt will be rationed with immediate effect.

5. The hospital has its own standby generator and will continue to function normally. Those of you who rely on a regular power supply during the night in order to run medical aids should alert the Doctor of this requirement. If necessary you may need to attend the hospital for this purpose.

6. The Pub will open in the evening at 1800 hours and close at 1930 hours until further notice.

7. Please be assured that Ovenstone is taking this incident extremely seriously. Everyone there is working extremely hard to achieve a solution to our power shortage. We hope that the Lyme Bay can bring us a new generator as well as other essential equipment lost in the fire. As soon as I have more details I’ll let the community know.

DJ Morley Administrator 13th February 2008

News Update at 15.21 on 13th February
brings the first good news of the day as Administrator David Morley confirms that 'we've just switched over to the standby generator, which is working fine!'
taken by David Morley
on 15th February

showing the stand-by generator
installed immediately east of
the stricken factory
which is supplying limited
electricity 06.30 - 18.00
to the Tristan Settlement

News Update from David Morley on Friday 15th February

David Morley issued a Public Notice to the community on Friday 15th February reporting on the teamwork which has already resulted in some restoration of normality to the stricken Settlement.

Factory Fire: Next Steps

Following the fire at the Factory, the community will be interested to know what plans are being put in place to replace it, as well as install a new power plant. I’ve been working closely with Andrew James and he’s asked me to inform the community of what’s going to happen next.

Ovenstone’s strategy is as follows:

  1. Immediately work towards normalising the Community's power supply with the standby generator set already installed. Ovenstone has procured a new generator (it should be in Cape Town on Monday) and we are working towards shipping it down here as soon as possible, we hope on the Lyme Bay . When we get this new set we may be able to return to 24-hour electricity;
  2. It is crucial that this accident does not disrupt the plans for the harbour repair project. I’m glad to confirm that it remains on track. The Royal Engineers will be self sufficient in power so will not require any of “our” electricity. The only challenges outstanding are to power up the factory crane and replace the ship-shore fuel and water lines. Solutions have already been found to resolve these issues.
  3. The final phase will be to start the planning process for a new Generator Room (first priority), then a brand new Factory and Cold Store.  The objective here is to build modern facilities that will support the future development of the Tristan economy.  For example, the factory will be built to EU standards and will have improved holding tank and processing capacities that will facilitate greater whole and value added production. Erik and Gert will be returning to Tristan in early March on the Edinburgh to take forward these plans.

It is Ovenstone's intention to work with the community to overcome this disaster to the mutual benefit of both partners. 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. 

However, it is clearly a huge challenge to plan, design, deliver materials and build a plant room, factory and cold store.  This isn't going to happen before the start of next season.  At best Ovenstone anticipate the earliest they can have the factory completed is by the end of this year or during the first quarter of 2009.  The plant room we think can be done much earlier, depending upon equipment availability and Tristan weather this winter.

Ovenstone is working flat out at the moment on getting us a new generator as well as spending a great deal of time liaising with their insurance company. An assessor will be visiting Tristan as soon as possible to have a look at the factory site and make a formal report. During the next few days I will be exploring the implications of all this with Ovenstone, in particular what can be done to mitigate the potential loss of income to Tristan. As a first step Council will be discussing the issue on Monday. The Factory site remains out of bounds to everyone. If anyone sets foot on the site it may cause Ovenstone problems with its insurance claim, which could have very serious implications for us.

Meanwhile work continues to connect up the remaining amenities. I’m glad to say that we can still spare enough power to run the swimming pool pump so I hope as many children as possible will take advantage of the excellent weather. Some of you may have noticed (or smelt) that Alan and his team are removing the ruined product from the factory site. This will be buried at Pigbite to avoid it becoming a health hazard.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all those who have worked so hard to restore life in the Settlement to something approaching normality. The Governor, who telephoned me on Wednesday, also passes on his support, sympathy and very best wishes for the future as we begin the process of overcoming this setback.

D J Morley Administrator 15 February 2008

Further photos from David Morley
taken on 15th February and showing:

Left ~ View of the factory's damaged infrastructure

Right : Removing soiled crawfish

Left and Right

Removing soiled crawfish
to a burial site
at Pigbite

Report from Chief Islander and Inspector of Tristan da Cunha’s Police Conrad Glass
Received on 18th February

Between 04.05 and 0410 on Thursday 13th February John Lavarello (who lives at the top of the village), looked out of his bedroom window, and saw an orange glow near the Factory. Suddenly the glow turned into a large yellow flame thrusting up into to the darkness. John knew that the Factory was on fire and phoned Alan Swain, Assistant Factory Manager and Ken Green, the shift operator at the Factory for the week.
Patrick Rogers (who lives at the bottom east end of the village) was awoken by a loud bang. He thought something had blown and hit the roof of his house because the wind was blowing from the southwest 25 to 35 mph. On checking the roof he found no damage, but was aware of a dull glow reflecting from the mountainside. As he looked towards the Factory he saw a ball of flame shoot upward into the darkness. He knew one of buildings in the area was on fire. Moments later he sent his son to ring the fire gong, and his wife to alert Stanley Swain head of the Fire Team.
At approximately 04.15hrs the electrical supply to the village failed. Alan Swain was the first to arrive at the scene of the fire, a few moments later. The fire was burning at the west end of the Factory where the generators are located. The worse area of the fire was concentrated at the northwest area of the Factory; this area houses the carpentry workshop and carton store. Knowing it was too dangerous to approach the blazing building, Alan waited until the fire team arrived. Stanley and I arrived 04.23 with the Fire Engine, and the Police Land Rover. I put the Land Rover’s spotlights on the scene for Stanley to assess the situation. By now the Factory was a blazing inferno, fanned by the gusting wind.
All the fire team and male employees of Factory and Government had turned out to help. Stanley ordered everyone back 50 meters from the blazing building for fear that the diesel fuel tanks might catch fire and explode. We could only wait until the fire had burnt itself out, praying that the sparks would not ignite the diesel fuel. The gusting wind that fanned the flames kept the sparks away from the fuel tanks.
At 05.45 the Factory was a charred gutted shell that had collapsed in on its self. There were only a few pockets of fire near the fuel tanks. This was quickly extinguished by the fire team and combined workforce who attacked the fire pockets with water from the fire engine and hand held fire extinguishers. By 06.35 the fire was put out, the worse area was the flax windbreak, and paint store that is between the Factory and fuel tanks. In this area the heat was so intense the metal sheets of zinc were melted into large bits. There was an estimated 15 tonnes of crayfish product destroyed with the freezers. The smell of the burnt crayfish is quite pungent in the air.
The saving grace for the island was that the wind had not been northeast as it had been 15 hours earlier, the fuel tanks and more property would have been destroyed. There are 10 x 5,000 gallon fuel tanks sited approx 9 metres from the generators containing an estimated 50 tonnes of diesel fuel in them. It was also luck that the Factory emergency generator had been installed weeks earlier so that some power could be restored the next day.

Conrad J Glass 15th February 2008

Further images
of the burnt out
Tristan Fishing Factory
looking west

taken by
Desi Repetto

on 20th February

Administrator David Morley took this telling photograph advertising the rationing of candles on the Island Store's door. Hopefully fresh supplies of candles will arrive on the RFA Lyme Bay or MV Edinburgh to keep households light after electricity from the island's stand by generator shuts off at 21.30 daily (see story below).
News Update on Electricity Supply
Following the Factory fire, the sigh of relief felt by the Tristan community following the connection of the standby generator was premature.  Sadly, the machine failed during the evening of Friday 15 February, with overheating problems.  By Sunday morning, frozen stores in islanders' freezers were beginning to soften, and salt was issued in case the meat needed to be salted.  Frozen stores were consolidated as much as possible.  Happily, following a weekend of work by the Factory team, the generator was repaired and restarted during the afternoon of Sunday 17 February. 
Power supplies have been fine since and the island currently enjoys electricity from 0730-2130.  This meant that rugby fans missed the final 10 minutes of the England-France 6 Nations rugby match on Sunday night, which disappointed all England fans.  Less unhappy to miss the end was Clement Mochet, French UN Station Manager, desperately but vainly hoping for revenge after the World Cup.
Candles remain on ration, although the Administrator understands that the Lyme Bay may have some to spare when she arrives next Thursday.

Received from David Morley on Monday 25th February
Wednesday 5th March
The delayed MV Edinburgh arrived from Cape Town today Aboard is insurance assessor Charles Moolman, Ovenstones Factory Manager Erik MacKenzie and Ovenstones Chief Accountant Craig Hartmann. The insurance assessor is also a design engineer and once his loss adjustment work is complete, he will help Erik and Craig with a new factory design.

Let there be light!

Friday 7th March saw an important manoeuvre to lift
the new generator from MV Edinburgh to RFA Lyme Bay, and then to transport it to Calshot Harbour and hence to its newly prepared site alongside the temporary generator by the old burnt out factory site.

Robin Repetto was on hand with his camera to take this brilliant series of shots.

Top Left : MV Edinburgh alongside RFA Lyme Bay
Top Right : RFA's barge sets off

Next Left :
the barge enters the harbour
Opposite right and below left :
The crane manoeuvres the generator onto a trailer

Right : The generator aboard trailer pulled by tractor up Puma road

Bottom left and right :
the generator lifted into its final position.

Work was proceeding on Monday 10th March to install and hopefully switch on the generator to restore 24/7 power to the Tristan da Cunha Settlement.

Wednesday 12th March
Work to link the new generator to the island's electricity supply continue today and it is hoped to restore 24/7 electricity soon.

Photographs left show: top the new generator being moved into its final position and below the generator on its plinth awaiting switch on a week later.

Friday 14th March
Full 24/7 electric power was restored to the Settlement as the new generator supplied power beyond 21.30 hours for the first time since fire destroyed the old generators on 13th February.


Thursday 20th March

Photographs from David Morley
show the continuing work
to clear the charred remains
of the fish processing factory
is well advanced.


Easter Sunday 24th March

Islanders have been impressed with the sheer hard work of the Task Force as they have set about re-building Calshot Harbour, but this was exceeded on Easter Sunday as Royal Engineers volunteered to help Factory Manager Erik McKenzie clear the factory site on their day off!
Well done men!

Wednesday 26th March
It is understood that Ovenstones are now in discussions to agree one of three possible designs for a new Tristan da Cunha fish processing factory which will be the third in the history of the island. Negotiations for an insurance payout are thought to be at a final stage.

Thursday 27th March

The factory site is now largely cleared of fire debris thanks to the efforts of the Task Force (see above).

Photos taken this day by
David Morley

17th April 2008

Pictures of the factory
site after
complete clearance
and awaiting re-building


Factory Employees gather as clearance work is completed

Left to Right :

Back Row ~ Ronald Rogers, Steve Swain, Larry Swain, Shaun Green, Thomas Swain
Middle Row ~ Karl Hagan, Eric Glass, Roger Glass
Front Row ~ Factory Manager Erik McKenzie, Deputy Manager Allan Swain,
Lewis Glass, Brian Rogers, Gavin Green and Damian Swain

June Engineer visit - Revised report on 28th May
An engineer will be travelling out on the June 2008 MV Edinburgh trip to carry out an on site inspection required for the finalisation of the design for a new crane. See also Harbour News Page.
New Fishing Factory Building
We are delighted that, as plans for a new fishing factory reach an advanced stage, we publish a new page which will catalogue the project from design to realisation - so why not go straight to the new page News of New Fishing Factory to find out more.