Scotland Charters Second Cruise Ship to House Ukrainian Refugees

Scotland charters cruise ship to house refugees
Scotland chartered the cruise ship Ambition which was laid up awaiting her entry into service in 2023 (Ambassador Cruise Line)

Published Aug 15, 2022 7:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

With the influx of Ukrainian refugees continuing to enter Scotland and threatening to overwhelm the available housing, Scotland announced plans to convert a second passenger ship into temporary accommodations. The Scottish government had recently suspended its visa scheme for three months saying it need to make arrangements citing the shortage of housing and the continued influx of applications.

The Scottish government has chartered the 48,000 gross ton cruise ship Ambition and it will be located in Glasgow to provide accommodation for up to 1,750 Ukrainian refugees. Built in 1999 for a short-lived start-up cruise line, the ship ultimately was acquired by Carnival Corporation which ran it with Ibero Cruises, Costa, and finally AIDA, before selling the ship in January 2022 to the start-up British firm Ambassador Cruise Line. Renamed Ambition, since April she has been idle in Bar, Montenegro as the cruise company had not planned to place her into service until March 2023.

The ship, which is 708 feet in length has 713 passenger cabins that can accommodate approximately 1,200 people. Scotland did not say for how long they have chartered the cruise ship but announced she is due to be fully operational by September in Glasgow. The cruise ship departed Montenegro over the weekend and after a stop in Malta is currently proceeding to France.

She joins the Victoria I, a passenger ship that is currently docked at Leith, which is housing approximately 1,000 refugees. She was chartered to Scotland by Tallink from her normal route between Tallinn and Stockholm. The initial charter for six months began in July, but Scotland has the option according to Tallink to extend it for three additional months.

“Following the arrival of the M/S Victoria I – which has been well received by people on board – the Scottish Government is chartering a second passenger ship – the M/S Ambition – which will be located in Glasgow from early September. This will further enhance our ability to provide safe and secure accommodation for those who need it,” said Scotland Minister with Special Responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine Neil Gray.

The Scottish government launched its Super Sponsor Scheme in March to offer sanctuary to displaced people from Ukraine working within the UK government’s efforts to provide a fast and safe alternative to private sponsorship. As of August, the Scottish government has offered sanctuary to 10,056 displaced people from Ukraine, far exceeding original estimates for 3,000 people. The number of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Scotland continues to rise, with government officials reporting that to date they have received nearly 34,000 visa applications under the scheme.

“We are getting close to capacity for the temporary accommodation currently available, particularly across the Central Belt,” said Gray. “While areas like Glasgow and Edinburgh are more familiar to Ukrainians, we are encouraging everyone arriving here to consider other areas across Scotland, especially as we see more visas being issued.”

Scotland is not alone in chartering passenger ships to provide temporary housing. Estonia and the Netherlands also hired ships at the beginning of the crisis. The Netherlands recently said it would bring in three more ships to house refugees even proposing to anchor the vessels offshore while providing housing. That idea was withdrawn after wide criticism, but the Netherlands proceeded to charter the three vessels while saying it was working on docking arrangements.

According to the UN, at least 12 million people have fled their homes since Russia's invasion of Ukraine with more than 5.2 million refugees from the country reported spread across Europe.