A cut above: Former St. George’s town crier E. Michael Jones ushers a cruise ship through Town Cut in 2002. In the last few years, the increasing size of liners means fewer have been able to sail through the space and have bypassed the Old Town — to the serious detriment of the local economy. *File photo by Chiwun Smith

A cut above: Former St. George’s town crier E. Michael Jones ushers a cruise ship through Town Cut in 2002. In the last few years, the increasing size of liners means fewer have been able to sail through the space and have bypassed the Old Town — to the serious detriment of the local economy. *File photo by Chiwun Smith

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Could these be the lifeboats that save St George’s?

Highly manoeuvrable tugboats known as ‘tractor tugs’ could help bring cruise ships back to the east end — without the need to widen Town Cut.

The tugs, which specialise in shepherding large vessels through tight spaces, could help the new generation of mega ships access St. George’s.

If the proposal is deemed workable it would bring thousands of tourists each week and revitalise a town on the ropes. Cruise ships — for so long the lifeblood of the St. George’s economy and the primary source of funding for the Corporation — have been worryingly absent in the east this summer.

Mayor Kenny Bascome insists a recovery plan is in place for St. George’s but many believe regular cruise ship visits are essential to the future of the town.

The National Trust, which is strongly opposed to any moves to widen the Cut, has endorsed the suggestion. Engineers will be asked to investigate the viability of tractor tugs as part of a menu of options in a new feasibility study commissioned by Marine and Ports.

The study will try to determine what the workable alternatives are for bringing the larger Panamax cruise ships through Town Cut and into St. George’s harbour. The controversial idea of removing parts of Hen and Hicks Island, which borders the Cut, is a non-starter for environmental groups. David Outerbridge, a National Trust environmental officer, said they also oppose large-scale dredging to deepen the channel.

It is hoped the tractor tugs suggestion, which would still require some dredging, could be a compromise.

Mr. Bascome said: “We have done some research because we believe they may be the best option for Bermuda for the next 30 to 40 years.

“If the cruise ships in partnership with Government agree this would be the way forward then that would be the way to go.”

He cautioned the feasibility study will also have to determine that the plan is workable.

And he insisted it will ultimately be down to the people of St. George’s to decide what is best for the town.

The corporation does not have the finances to hold a referendum but will do the best they can to consult everyone in the town before deciding which way to go.

A major stumbling block will be the risk associated with the tractor tugs, which require skilled skippers working in tandem to manoeuvre the cruise ship through the channel.

A spokesman for Carnival Corporation, parent company of Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines, which all make regular visits to Bermuda, questioned whether the plan could work.

He said the corporation will await the results of the study but added “the viability physically and financially of such a system is questionable”. The science behind tractor tug operations is complicated.

They are more powerful than regular tugboats and can pull a cruise ship through the channel.

The operation would involve one boat on the bow and one on the stern, working in consort with the skipper of the ship. 

This would allow the ship to come in at a lower speed than it could under its own steam — making it sit higher in the water and reducing the chances of it running aground at the shallowest point of the Cut.

It would also give the ship more room to manoeuvre, in theory, enabling it to avoid crashing into Hen Island.

The National Trust, asked for an opinion as part of an ongoing consultation process, believe the boats could also be a sensible option for Hamilton and Dockyard.

“This could have the added benefit of assisting Panamax vessels through the northern and southern channels to the west end which would lessen washout and vastly reduce the impact of silt on Bermuda’s reef platform,” the Trust’s Marine Environment Committee wrote in its official response.

“The Bermuda National Trust would support the Corporation in any application to Government to establish the viability of this.

“As stakeholders in St. George’s, the Bermuda National Trust is acutely aware of the need to maintain the economic viability of the town of St. George’s.”