Scotland’s cruise industry has been promised “further clarity” this week on when journeys can resume amid warnings the sector is in a perilous position after 14 months of coronavirus uncertainty.
Almost 900 cruises begin their journey in Scotland in a typical year, carrying 800,000 passengers, but firms have been prevented from operating at all since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The expansion of Aberdeen Harbour, which has been delayed until 2022, was also pitched on the basis of increasing access to the lucrative cruise market.
The sector published in October a framework, agreed with the UK Government, for restarting when restrictions allow and open water tests – where ships sail between two ports with reduced capacity and virus testing – have been taking place in England.
The Welsh and Northern Irish governments have said they will follow guidance set by the UK Government but no further announcement has been made by the Scottish Government since ministers were locked in discussions before May’s election.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines confirmed last month it has cancelled its summer programme from Scotland, including a 1,350-guest luxury ship due to depart from Rosyth on a tour of the Norwegian fjords, and blamed a lack of clarity from the Scottish Government.
Peter Deer, the cruise operator’s managing director, said they had a programme detailing the phased return to sailing with dates starting in England on July 5, followed by the Balmoral’s departure from Rosyth on July 28.
However, that had to be scrapped because the Scottish Government has yet to confirm their plans for the resumption of travel – despite non-essential trips abroad already getting the go-ahead south of the border.
The Scottish Government has promised “further clarity this week” but with the sector receiving no direct financial support, concerns have been raised that struggling operators may be forced to shed jobs or risk going bust.
UK Chamber of Shipping chief executive, Bob Sanguinetti, has called for urgent answers from ministers.
He said: “The cruise sector is vitally important to the Scottish economy, supporting coastal and island communities, supply chains and ports. The halting of the cruise sector is estimated to have cost the Scottish economy £108 million.
“The industry has worked tirelessly on new health and safety protocols over the last 14 months but despite the resumption of cruises from England last month, there is still no clarity from the Scottish Government on the way ahead.
“The cruise industry needs a roadmap now so they can also properly plan for the safe and successful resumption of cruising in Scotland over the summer months.”
North East MSP Liam Kerr has written to the transport secretary, Michael Matheson, to “raise the lack of any Scottish Government guidance on when cruise ships will be allowed to set sail from or take passengers to Scotland as restrictions ease”.
Mr Kerr said he had received “extensive representations” from “a variety of sectoral interests” and wanted to highlight the importance of the sector to Scotland’s wider tourism industry and to the country’s island and coastal communities.
“Given the lack of guidance on when a restart will be possible in Scotland, I am told that many cruise operators have to consider cancelling planned summer trips, putting jobs at risk and the wider supply chain and tourist industry in peril,” Mr Kerr said.
“In October, the UK Chamber of Shipping published a framework, agreed with the UK Government, which would allow cruises to restart when Covid restrictions permit.
“I understand that domestic cruises, albeit with reduced capacity, have been permitted to depart from, and arrive back to, ports in England with effect from May.
“In Scotland, the first minister, in responding to a question from Stuart McMillan MSP last Tuesday, June 1, was able to state only that providing guidance on when cruising can restart in Scotland is now “under consideration”.
“It is important that we offer all sectors of our economy as much certainty as possible as we lift restrictions, to better protect businesses and jobs.”
Mr Kerr urged ministers to provide clear information on when domestic cruise travel will restart in Scotland and for indicative dates to be published ahead of the restart to give the industry forewarning.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to enabling cruises to restart in Scotland as soon as it is safe to do so. We recognise the impact this is having on the sector and will provide further clarity this week.”