There’s plenty of room for ferries to get through Town Cut but it’s unnavigable for most modern cruise ships. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
There’s plenty of room for ferries to get through Town Cut but it’s unnavigable for most modern cruise ships. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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FRIDAY, AUGUST 26: Widen the shipping channels or forget about cruise ships for St George’s and Hamilton.

That is the stark choice that will be laid out following a new study into the viability of Bermuda’s ports.

Research suggests that those who maintain there are cruise ships out there that would come through Town Cut are pursuing an impossible pipedream.

Statistics compiled by the Bermuda Sun and backed up by the government’s own study indicate there are as few as 26 cruise ships in the world that could fit through the narrow channel into St George’s Harbour.

Far-flung

Many of those are either based in far-flung destinations like the south Pacific, are world cruisers or are occasional visitors to Bermuda that won’t commit to more regular trips.

A new report on the environmental impact of widening Town Cut in St George’s and Two Rock Passage in Hamilton has already gone before Cabinet.

It will be rolled out to the public next month as Transport Minister Terry Lister attempts to lead an informed debate over the options facing the world heritage site.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “The idea is to see what would have to be done to allow ships to get into Hamilton and St George’s.

“Currently 16 per cent of all cruise ships could get into those two ports.

“The bulk of those are used for worldwide cruises that sail the ocean year-round.

“Around half do come to Bermuda once or twice a year but they are not committed to a straight run.

“The second piece to this is that the majority of these ships were built in the 1990s. They can’t compete head-to-head with the new, more attractive ships we have coming into Bermuda right now.

“Trying to go out and find that ship that can dock in St George’s currently is almost impossible.

“We have to look at the way forward which is to determine whether we can do something with Two Rock Passage and the Cut.”

The Transport Minister would not go into details about the study but said it would be up to Bermudian public to decide the best way forward.

He added: “That’s the question that will be put to Bermuda over the coming months as we accept the channel study and go through the process of engagement with our stakeholders.

“I’m committed to talking to all of the people that need to be spoken to - that’s every single person in Bermuda.”

“There is actually potential for a change to improve some environmental aspects in St George’s rather than damage it.”

Larry Jacobs, a government transportation co-ordinator, revealed there was a total of 26 competitive ships capable of transiting Town Cut.

He added: “Six are operated by Seabourn Cruises, six by Silverseas Cruises, three by Oceania Cruises and two by Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

“What is important to note is that Seabourn, Silverseas, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas are premium cruise lines doing world-wide cruises, and not repetitive itineraries.

“Bottom line is there are very few ships available that can transit Town Cut in St. George’s.

“The average age of the 26 smaller ships is currently 13 years, and in our discussions with cruise lines approximately 33 per cent will be retired in the next 5 years.

“Of the 19 new ships currently on the order book by cruise lines, only two will be capable of transiting Town Cut.

“These ships will be operated by Seabourn and Hapag-Lloyd, again premium or luxury brands doing world-wide itineraries.”

Support

Community figures in St George’s have re-iterated their support for the widening of Town Cut so the town can have its own cruise ship.

Mayor Kenny Bascome: “I don’t like the word widen. It would be a modification and a modification is what I have always proposed.

“I have spoken to the principals on cruise ships and they have told me it is just not financially viable to get these smaller ships into St George’s.

“Either the community is in support of the modification or the St George’s business community will basically die.”

Henry Hayward, former Mayor of St George’s and shipping expert, added: “There is going to have to be an alteration to Town Cut if we are to get our own cruise ship.

“I have been saying this since 2008.

“I think people who think there are cruise ships out there that could come into St George’s have had their head in the sand.

“It is critical to St George’s that we have a cruise ship. I would advocate the widening of the Cut.”

Kim Swan, St George’s West MP, told the Bermuda Sun: It is an understatement to say that we are anxious to see the findings of the report commissioned on Town Cut,  St George’s. We anticipated the report in May but are pleased by the news that the long awaited report it is now available for Cabinet review.

In that regard, I look forward as a Member of Parliament for St. George to be able together with municipality officials, St. George’s residents and the business community - to also consider the findings - as it is of great importance to the future viability of the Town of St. George.

Our Town is struggling economically and in dire need of tremendous financial bolster.

“The Town of St. George for centuries has been a vibrant commercial community, which provided jobs and a suitable environment to dwell. For the past three decades the Town of St. George hosted two cruise ships a week and we are now reeling because of their absence - today we have none. 

“Whilst, I will reserve judgment until I have reviewed the report, considered the opinions of my constituents and the business community I will keep and open my mind and encourage others to do likewise.

Additional reporting by James Whittaker