Orkney council are gearing up to impose new limits on cruise ships visiting the islands.
A new policy has been given the thumbs-up by a county council sub-committee this week.
If it gets the final go-ahead, visiting liners will be given gradings based on their size, from 1 (up to 500 passengers) to 5 (5,000+).
In any given day, the sum of gradings would only be allowed to add up to five in two of the islands’ main anchorages.
The measures are being proposed amid a fear of overcrowding next season.
Orkney cruise ship limits: The details
Orkney Islands Council’s Harbours Authority sub-committee met this week and gave their backing for the proposed policy to be adopted by the county’s harbours authority.
This policy is the first part of a wider strategy around cruise liner visits being developed by the council.
Part of the cruise booking and confirmation policy sees the council apply gradings, from 1 to 5 for the cruise, to help categorise their sizes.
A category one ship would have 500 or less passengers on it while a category 5 would have a maximum capacity of over 5,000.
The new policy says the combined total for categories of ships calling in a Hatston Pier and Kirkwall Bay anchorage should not go over five at one time.
For example, if a category five ship called in at Hatston Pier then no cruise ships could call in at Kirkwall Bay Anchorage.
However, if a category three ship called in at the pier then a category two ship could call in at the anchorage.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that this rule would only apply to those two berths and no to the county’s others, for example Kirkwall North Pier.
Why is the council proposing this?
Orkney Islands Council have produced this policy as it is predicted that the county’s desirability as a destination for cruise liners will continue to increase.
The report to councillors notes that Orkney is Scotland’s premier destination for cruise liners.
Over 200 calls are expected within this year. The war in Ukraine has played a part in this as cruise calls to the East Baltic have been displaced.
The county has seen the economic benefits of this, with 2022’s season bringing in £2,947,007 in port revenues alone.
The growth is expected to continue into next year’s season.
There are currently 253 forward reservations for next year. There are already 112 for 2025 and 40 for 2026.
As such, pressure would be put on the county’s resources and infrastructure and would result in overcrowding.
The report says there would be a “diluting” of the overall tourism experience.
There is also concern that if the number of passengers isn’t controlled, it would result in a negative view of cruise.
This could offset the economic benefits brought by the cruise calls.
Already this year, local voices from Orkney’s tourism industry and business community have spoken publicly about the issues caused by the liner visits.
The council had already put a limit on the number of cruise liners back in 2018.
In those, the Harbour Authority was instructed not to allow “simultaneous multiple port calls” to exceed 4,500 passengers.
It appears this wasn’t adhered to, however. The busiest day in 2018 say 5,300 passengers and 5,500 were seen in 2019.
The busiest day so far this year saw 6,090, according to the report.
Notably, the new category system wouldn’t see the council stick to the limit set back in 2018 either.
Can the council turn away cruise ships?
There are also questions about the council’s powers when it comes to its ability to turn away cruise ships.
The council has an “open port duty”.
This includes for the disembarking of passengers.
What did the councillors have to say?
Councillors remarked that many in the county will be glad to see the new policy coming forward.
Councillor Mellissa Thomson stated her concern about the number of cruise passengers visiting Orkney.
She also noted that the crews from the ships aren’t mentioned in the new policy. She said this could be hundreds of extra people.
Councillor Thomson also noted that the booking for next year are “very Kirkwall heavy”.
She asked if there was any push to get more ships to other areas in the county. Councillor Thomson asked if more could go to Stromness, for example.
She was told that the cruise liners do prefer Kirkwall and some simply struggled to get into Stromness.
However, this year has seen some success in using buses to take passengers from Kirkwall to Stromness.
The ultimate decision for the sub-committee was for the proposed policy to be approved. If approved by full council as well, it will be used by the county’s harbour authority.