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Cruise Scotland welcomes the return of tour ships as Covid restrictions ease

By Calum MacLeod

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Scotland's cruise ship sector reopens today, but for UK passengers only at present. Picture: Andrew Smith.
Scotland's cruise ship sector reopens today, but for UK passengers only at present. Picture: Andrew Smith.

Confirmation that cruise ships can return to Scotland has been welcomed by industry body Cruise Scotland with an assurance that strict safety measures will be in place.

With the reduction of Scottish Government Covid-19 restrictions to Level 0 from today and domestic cruising at Scottish ports and harbours is also able to resume once again.

Domestic voyages to-and-from English ports have been operating since mid-May, but the change in regulations mean that ports such as Invergordon, Scrabster and Inverness can re-open to UK only passengers.

Rob Mason, chairman of Cruise Scotland, said: “Over the last year, the cruise sector has worked tirelessly with the Scottish and UK Governments and industry partners to develop and strengthen health and safety measures which now exceed those of any other travel sector and are the result of extensive collaboration.

“The decision to resume cruise is a welcome encouragement for our Scottish ports and harbours with the wider supply chain now able to recommence operations, welcoming UK sailings and UK passengers only, after a period of nearly 18 months following a voluntary suspension of visits in March 2020.”

The marketing organisation’s membership includes 16 ports and harbours on the Scottish mainland and the islands, backed by a wide diversity of vital stakeholders within the supply chain, including ships agents, ground handlers, stevedores, car parking and shore excursion providers.

Mr Mason commented: ‘‘The health and well-being of passengers, crew, shoreside staff and the communities visited are paramount, and the current protocols have already been extensively tested as almost 600,000 people have sailed on cruises since last summer elsewhere around the globe, which includes many English ports and harbours since May of this year.

“Collectively and individually, the Cruise Scotland membership place great emphasis on the safety of local communities which are a key part of the industry and will share in the recovery.

“We look forward to welcoming cruise ships back to enjoy our world-famous attractions, scenery and warm hospitality.

"The arrival of the first vessel today reflects the pent-up demand by both passengers and operators to visit Scotland.

“Expected arrivals till the end-of-season in the autumn are very encouraging and will be the springboard for gradual recovery. There are healthy volumes of bookings for next year and 2023.

"The restart and outlook reinforce plans to relaunch our marketing campaign and return in time to record levels of activity, making significant contributions to the Scottish economy, while ensuring all involved are in safe hands.”

On of the first vessels to bring UK passengers back to Scottish ports will be Noble Caledonia's MS Island Sky which will berth at Lerwick's Victoria Pier today, with 66 passengers on board, half its usual capacity as part of a full circumnavigation of the UK, taking in some rarely visited and remote locations en-route, with St Kilda and Scrabster also on its itinerary.

Mike Deegan, head of fleet operations for Noble Caledonia, said: “We are delighted to be re-affirming our strong connections with our friends in Scotland, a country we have visited regularly over the last 30 years.

"We are also proud that it is our flagship Island Sky that is the first to visit after restrictions have been eased. Our strict Covid-safe protocols, both on board and ashore, will ensure we shall visit with safety of local communities and those on-board paramount”.

Lerwick Port Authority chief executive, Captain Calum Grains, said: "We’ve been working through the many steps required with all interested parties to ensure that Covid measures are in place to protect everyone involved during cruise ship visits.

"The arrival of Island Sky will be a significant milestone in the road to recovery from Covid and rebuilding the industry’s important contribution to the Shetland and Scottish economy.”

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