Hundreds of UK passengers on a cruise ship sailing around the country have been told they will not be allowed to disembark when they arrive in Scotland.
The MSC Virtuosa’s operator said the decision was made because Scottish Government rules do not allow the ship to enter the Greenock port.
The Government said that cruises should operate in Scotland when all of the country has reached level 1.
The seven-night cruise left on 8 June with a schedule to stop at Belfast, Southampton and the Isle of Portland before returning to Greenock and with a final stop at Liverpool the following day.
‘Out of our control’
However the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), the professional body for travel agents and the sector in Scotland, has seen a copy of an email sent to current passengers by the cruise operator.
It says: “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 cancelled.
“No guests are allowed to embark or disembark… This decision has been made by the Scottish Government and is out of our control.”
Scottish passengers were due to join the cruise in Greenock and the SPAA anticipated a third of those currently on board were expected to go ashore for excursions on 9 June.
‘Barred from entering own country’
Michele Lister, who works for Glasgow-based Glen Travel, is one of those who boarded the ship in Liverpool, and has expressed her disappointment at not being allowed in to Greenock.
She said: “The captain made an announcement over the Tannoy and said that due to the latest government announcement we were not going to be allowed to disembark in Greenock and we were going to remain in Liverpool one other night.
“There’s about half a dozen people that I’m aware of on board that are Scottish and they want to show off to the English customers what Scotland’s all about and they want to spend the money in the area as well, which is badly needed.
“The majority of Scotland is in level 2 just now, I don’t see why we’re not allowed to go in our country – it’s safer on here than it is to walk about the street in Glasgow, we had to do two PCR tests to get on board the ship.”
Joanne Dooey, SPAA president, said: “We’re now facing the situation where Scottish passengers who joined the cruise in Liverpool are barred from setting foot in their own country.
“The SPAA has been asking for clarity on the situation for this particular cruise ship since last week, and all we have received so far is an indication that cruises may only restart when all of Scotland is in Level 1.
“Inverclyde itself is currently in Level 1.
“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.
“We, as travel agents, are utterly devastated. The Scottish Government is not even paying lip service now to working with the travel sector to save Scottish travel.”
‘Cruises to restart when Scotland reaches level 1’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We fully understand the impact of the current restrictions on domestic cruises.
“We explained our concerns about the transmission risks posed by cruise vessels in an update to industry on May 24 and confirmed that we would clarify the position in June.
“Following extensive engagement with stakeholders, we have now confirmed that domestic cruises can restart when all of Scotland reaches Level 1 and we have made industry, including the operator, aware of this.
“This decision has been informed by the combination of risks that exists between both cruises and the wider travel context, including the current trajectory of Covid infections and the unknowns around the new Delta variant, in addition to the potential for high risk of uncontained rapid transmission on the cruise.
“Affected passengers should contact the operator for further information regarding their trip.”
An MSC spokeswoman told the PA news agency: “In light of recent information received, we are now awaiting further clarification from the relevant authorities in Scotland about the situation for cruising which regrettably means that we have had to cancel our proposed visit to Greenock.
“We hope that our calls to Scotland with our special cruises can commence soon considering how much we were looking forward to welcoming our Scottish guests onboard MSC Virtuosa and how we are aware of the important and widespread contribution that the cruise industry makes to Scotland.”
Additional reporting by PA.