It was a bold initiative and one that was set to put the UK at the centre of the revival of global cruising. The notion of around-Britain cruises was a masterstroke in tactical deployment of cruise ships which had been languishing at anchor, forlorn and going nowhere. Renowned names in cruising such as Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises and Viking Cruises, as well as a host of other popular cruise lines, jumped on the bandwagon and rostered a summer season of ‘seacations’ that would showcase this scepter’d isle.
The Italian cruise line MSC was at the vanguard of this concept and their first seven-night sailing aboard the brand-new MSC Virtuosa departed Southampton this week bound for: Liverpool, Greenock, Belfast and Portland. All passengers are UK residents and have provided a negative Covid test. Little did they know that the Scottish Government was about to torpedo plans to visit the port of Greenock, which lies on the banks of the River Clyde, close by the birthplace of many of the world’s greatest liners.
MSC Virtuosa remained at the Pierhead Cruise Terminal in Liverpool for an extra day as it emerged Scotland had issued an edict banning all visits by cruise ships until the whole of Scotland is placed in Covid protection Level 1. Much of Scotland’s central belt remains at Level 2, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, although many rural areas were moved to Level 1 last week.
MSC has confirmed its calls in Greenock, and future departures fixed for 16 and 23 June, have been cancelled. A statement issued on behalf of MSC Cruises said: “We hope that our calls to Scotland with our special cruises can recommence soon considering how much we were looking forward to welcoming our Scottish guests onboard MSC Virtuosa.”
A spokesman for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told The Telegraph: “The decision not to allow cruise ships to enter Scotland at this time is very unfortunate. Currently, cruise ships calling at UK ports have UK-only guests on board, including many from Scotland.
"Domestic cruises have safely and successfully restarted in England and across Europe, and the multi-layered measures now in place are there to protect the wellbeing of the destinations we visit, as well as passengers and crew. We continue to seek further clarity from the Scottish Government and would welcome the opportunity to discuss the cruise industry protocols with Ministers.”
Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), the professional body for travel agents and the travel sector in Scotland, is understandably angry. “The Scottish Government has effectively closed the country’s borders to anything other than road travel,” she said, adding: “The irony is that any of these passengers can get in a car and drive from Southampton to Inverclyde with no testing, border control or vaccinations. The Scottish Government is not even paying lip service now to working with the travel sector to save Scottish travel.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman has responded saying:“We remain committed to enabling cruises to restart in Scotland as soon as it is safe to do so. We recognise the impact this is having on the sector and will provide further clarity this week.”
Ironically, it comes as the SNP Government health secretary Humza Yousaf defended plans to bring 6,000 people together in a fan-zone at Hampden Park in Glasgow to celebrate the Euro 2020 match between Scotland and the Czech Republic on 14 June. There’s currently no mandate for these fans to be vaccinated or tested.
Celebrity Cruises has also planned a summer-long series of cruises, which are scheduled to dock at the Scottish ports of Greenock, Kirkwall and Invergordon. In the wake of yesterday’s announcement by the Scottish Government, the company issued a statement saying: “We are aware of the current restrictions in Scotland. Celebrity Silhouette doesn’t commence her domestic season until 3 July, so we will await the next update from the Scottish Government to determine whether we need to make any changes to our current planned itineraries.”
A Tweet today from Saga Cruises says: “In the light of yesterday’s statement from the Scottish Government, we are currently reviewing the itineraries for our first two Scottish Isles cruises on Spirit of Discovery. We will update our guests booked on these cruises by the end of this week.”
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Balmoral was scheduled to take passengers on a series of cruises from the Scottish port of Rosyth this summer, but these have been called off amid the uncertainty. Passengers who had booked received emails from the cruise line’s managing director apologising for the cancellations. It reads: “It takes months of meticulous planning and organising for us to successfully bring each ship back into service and I am afraid to say, with such uncertainty, we have no choice but to take the difficult and deeply disappointing decision to cancel our summer departures from Rosyth this year.”
The SNP leader says she’s “optimistic” that remaining lockdown restrictions will be eased across Scotland in the coming weeks despite rising Covid case numbers. Sadly, this ship might have sailed, as Sturgeon‘s submarine seems to have sunk any opportunity for Scotland to showcase its many splendours to eager British visitors seeking a staycation with a difference.