The first cruise ship to visit a Scottish port since early 2020 is scheduled to arrive at Lerwick harbour, in Shetland, next week.
It follows the Scottish Government’s lifting of a Covid-19-related ban and the re-opening of ports to liners carrying British passengers on UK-only sailings, that comes into effect from Monday.
The return of the industry to the islands, where visitor numbers have plummeted since the onset of the pandemic, has been hailed as a “welcome financial boost” for businesses in Shetland’s tourism sector.
The small liner MS Island Sky, operated by Noble Caledonia, will berth at Lerwick’s Victoria Pier on Monday, with 66 passengers on board, which is half the capacity of the vessel.
Steve Matheson, Shetland Islands Manager for VisitScotland, said: “The news the Scottish Government is allowing resumption of domestic cruise visits to Scottish ports is a major boost for the industry and it’s great Shetland will be one of the first to benefit.
The industry has developed excellent Covid-19 protocols for both onboard ship and port excursions, with community safety central to the measures in place. I know Shetlanders will welcome this cautious and responsible approach.
“The return of passengers will be a welcome financial boost for bus operators, tour guides, attractions and retailers. Tourism is a force for good, creating economic and social value in every corner of Scotland and enhancing the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it.”
Lerwick Port Authority (LPA) chief executive, Calum Grains, said: “We’ve been working through the many steps required with all interested parties to ensure that Covid measures are in place to protect everyone involved during cruise ship visits.
“These measures meet official requirements and complement the comprehensive steps taken by cruise operators which set some of the highest standards seen in the tourism industry.”
“Significant milestone” in port’s recovery
He continued: “The arrival of Island Sky will be a significant milestone in the road to recovery from Covid and rebuilding the industry’s important contribution to the Shetland and Scottish economy.
“We only had two cruise ship visits in 2020 – in February, ahead of the industry’s voluntary suspension of calls in what should have been another record year for Lerwick, with around 100 calls. This year should have been even better.”
LPA said that, in the initial phase of restarting cruise operations, all passengers coming ashore at Lerwick are likely to travel in “bubbles” of up to 15, observing all precautions.
The organisation added that there is potential for a number of other cruise ships to visit Lerwick in the remainder of the season through to October. There are strong bookings for 2022 and into 2023.
The Island Sky is on a full circumnavigation of the UK, taking in some rarely-visited and remote location before and after its Lerwick call.
Noble Caledonia’s head of fleet operations, Mike Deegan, said: “We are delighted to be re-affirming our strong connections with our friends in Scotland, a country we have visited regularly over the last 30 years.
“We are also proud that it is our flagship Island Sky that is the first to visit after restrictions have been eased. Our strict Covid-safe protocols, both on board and ashore, will ensure we shall visit with safety of local communities and those on-board paramount.”
Domestic cruise voyages to-and-from English ports have been operating since mid-May.