Despite progress in controlling COVID-19, the Scottish Government announced today that its ports will remain closed to large cruise ships at this time. In an unprecedented move, the UK government disbanded the summer domestic cruise program just one day before the first large ship was due to arrive in Greenock.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon updated the Scottish Parliament on COVID-19’s broader spread across the region, describing it as “still fragile.” She noted, “Despite this positive progress there is still a need for ongoing caution.”
According to the Scottish Government, domestic cruises will only be allowed to resume once Scotland reaches “level one” on its scale of zero to four. Currently, the county where Greenock lies is at level one, but other parts of Scotland are still at level two, and travel restrictions within Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom still apply. The government mentioned both cruises and the wider travel context as among the risks.
However, the government said it understood “the impact of the current restrictions on domestic cruises,” but it was clear in its policy that it would determine its position on cruises at the beginning of June based on the current status of the efforts to combat the virus.
The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, which represents Scotland’s travel industry, issued a statement condemning this decision and the potential impact on Scottish businesses through the denial of cruise ships visiting Scotland’s ports or embarking passengers there. Domestic cruises for British citizens were permitted to resume under tight restrictions in May, but the decision was left to the local authorities.
“We’re now facing the situation where Scottish passengers who joined the cruise in Liverpool are barred from setting foot in their own country,” said Joanne Dooey, president of The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA). “The Scottish Government has effectively closed the country’s borders to anything other than road travel. 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.”
MSC Cruises’ MSC Virtuosa, making its first cruise around the British Isles this week after beginning short cruises from Southampton, is the first ship to be affected. Due to British government restrictions, the cruise ship, which has a normal capacity of 6,000 passengers, is currently sailing with about 900 passengers. SPAA says it understands that three-quarters of passengers, as well as the cruise line’s crew, have received full COVID-19 vaccinations, and that testing for COVID-19 is being administered to passengers and the crew as well as other precautions.
Currently, the MSC Virtuosa is in Liverpool and is scheduled to arrive in Greenock on June 9 for a 10-hour stop. About 300 passengers were expected to embark on excursions and disembark in Scotland, while others were scheduled to embark. The MSC Virtuosa is on a 7-day loop sailing between Southampton, Liverpool, Greenock, Belfast, and the Isle of Portland.
“To fully comply with the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 restrictions and regulations, MSC has sent a message to passengers advising that the port call at Greenock has been cancelled. This decision was made by the Scottish Government and is beyond our control.” Travel agents in Scotland have also been notified that departures from Greenock on June 16 and 23 will also be canceled.
According to a spokesperson for MSC, the port call has been cancelled, but they hope to begin cruises to Scotland in due course. MSC Virtuosa extended its stay in Liverpool by one day.
As part of the summer restart of UK domestic cruising, other cruise lines had also planned to offer cruises from Scotland.