Town Cut isn’t big enough to handle larger vessels. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Town Cut isn’t big enough to handle larger vessels. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16: Millions of dollars have to be poured into widening Bermuda’s shipping channels to attract the bigger cruise ships into Hamilton and St George’s.

A study commissioned by the Department of Transport has looked in to a series of options open to the two ports that would enable them to accommodate the growing breed of larger vessels.

These include doubling the width of Town Cut, losing 90 per cent of the total area of Higgs, Horseshoe and Hen Islands and widening Two Rock Passage.

The number of cruise ships coming into St George’s in the last few years has dropped dramatically as most are too big to negotiate Town Cut.

The report reveals that in 2007 126,158 cruise passengers arrived in the old Town in 108 ship visits.

This year just 1,023 passengers from two cruise ships will arrive in St George’s.

The report  — A Study of Bermuda’s Shipping Channels to Accommodate Larger Cruise Ships — reveals that all three of the major cruise lines currently visiting Bermuda would be in favour of a two or three-port stop.

It states: “The cruise industry has moved to larger cruise vessels, a trend rendering two of Bermuda’s traditional ports-of-call nearly inconsequential in terms of direct vessel and passenger arrivals.

“With the average length of cruise vessels delivered each year continuing to increase, combined with the retirement of older, smaller vessels, it is very unlikely that within the next decade cruise ships with lengths of 300m will become the operational norm.

The 146-page study initially looked at 14 ways of improving the access for bigger cruise ships through Town Cut, which were then narrowed down to three.

They involved deepening the channel, widening the shipping channel and removing substantial chunks of Higgs, Horseshoe and Hen Islands.

The channel improvements are expected to impact seagrass and coral reefs.

The report states: “The north sections of Higgs, Horseshoe, Hen and Lefroy Islands will be removed for the channel improvements.

“Terrestrial habitats and recreational opportunities for the public will be lost.

“Terrestrial survey will be required to determine the amount of impact.”

The extensive study into Bermuda’s shipping channels also involved a string of simulation tests, which were conducted with the help of Bermudian pilots to see what models could work.

Excavation

The report identifies three improvements whereby Town Cut would be widened from 70m to 145m, 155m or 165m to allow the newer, larger ships into St George’s Harbour.

It states: “The alternatives under consideration for deepening and widening the Town Cut channel involve dredging to -11 to -12m CD and widening to 165m.

“Widening to the south will require excavation on Horseshoe, Higgs and Hen Islands for all schemes.

“The geological information suggests that these excavations would likely be within the Rocky Bay and Belmont formations which are expected to have significant bedding and relatively light to moderate cementation, and therefore amenable to excavation using Cutter-Suction Dredging or Trailing Suction Hopper Dredging with relatively low risk of prior breaking by blasting or hydraulic hammers being required.”

The report also suggests that widening Two Rock Passage to 130m and re-aligning would make it suitable for some of the bigger cruise ships to come into Hamilton Docks.

The report provides a possible timetable for the work on Town Cut and Two Rock Passage to be completed as well as a budget.

It suggests that the cost of widening Town Cut will be between $48 million and $71 million depending on whether it is widened to 145m, 155m or 165m.

The report states: “The completion of field investigations and environmental studies generally takes one to three years to complete depending on the scope of the project.

“Improvements to Two Rocks and Town Cut are anticipated to take a minimum of 18 months to complete.

“Therefore the completion of the Town Cut and Two Rock Passage is anticipated by 2017.”