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At the Last Minute, Scotland Bans Cruise Ships Again

Scotland bars cruise ships due to COVID-19 concerns
MSC Virtuosa preparing for her first cruise around the UK (MSC Cruises UK)

Published Jun 8, 2021 7:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a last-minute decision, the Scottish Government announced today that it decided to keep its ports closed to cruise ships at this time despite progress in controlling COVID-19. The decision came the day before the first large ship in the UK’s summer domestic cruise restart program was due to arrive in Greenock.

Briefing the Scottish Parliament on the broader situation of COVID-19 across the region, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the overall condition as “still fragile.” During the update, she said that “while all of these signs are very positive, there is a need for continued caution.”

Based on the current situation, the Scottish Government decided that domestic cruises would only be permitted to restart when all of Scotland reaches “level one” on its scale of zero to four. While the county where the port of Greenock is located is currently at level one, parts of Scotland remain at level two and there are still some restrictions for travel within Scotland and across the United Kingdom. The government referenced the risks “between both cruises and the wider travel context,” according to a BBC report.

The government noted that it understood “the impact of the current restrictions on domestic cruises,” but said it had been 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 sector, issued a statement condemning the decision and the potential impact of Scottish businesses by denying the return of cruises visiting the ports or embarking passengers in Scotland. England permitted domestic cruises for UK residents to resume under tight restrictions in May, but said the decision would remain with 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.”

The first cruise ship to be impacted is MSC Cruises’ MSC Virtuosa, which is making its first cruise around the British Isles this week after starting short cruises from Southampton. The cruise ship, which has a normal capacity of 6,000 passengers, is currently sailing with approximately 900 passengers due to the limitations imposed by the British government. The SPAA said that it understands three-quarters of the passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as MSC’s crew, and that the cruise line is administering COVID-19 testing for passengers and crew as well as other precautions.

The MSC Virtuosa was in Liverpool today and scheduled to arrive in Greenock on June 9 for an approximately 10-hour stop. The SPAA reports that approximately 300 passengers were expected to go ashore for excursions, as well as some passengers that were to disembark and others to embark in Scotland. The MSC Virtuosa is operating a 7-day loop cruising between Southampton, Liverpool, Greenock, Belfast, and the Isle of Portland.

The SPAA reported that MSC sent a message to passengers saying “Due to the latest Scottish Government Covid-19 restrictions and regulations … we are sorry to inform you that the port call of Greenock has been canceled. No guests are allowed to embark or disembark… This decision has been made by the Scottish Government and is out of our control.” Travel agents in Scotland have also been informed that departures from Greenock on June 16 and 23 have also been canceled.

A spokesperson for MSC confirmed to the BBC that the port call had been canceled, but said they hoped cruise calls in Scotland can commence soon. The MSC Virtuosa extended its stay in Liverpool for a second day. 

Other cruise lines had also planned to cruise from Scotland as part of the summer restart of domestic cruising for UK passengers.