The Scottish Port of Cromarty Firth is set to welcome its first cruise ship since 2019 with the arrival of the Marella Explorer 2 on July 25.
The news comes as the Scottish cruise sector prepares to resume operations after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland will switch to Level Zero on Monday (July 19).
The 72,000tn Marella Explorer 2 will be making her inaugural call to Invergordon with a further 3 calls throughout the season, carrying British passengers and calling at British ports only.
UK Government, Scottish Government and cruise operators have put in place a range of strict protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and members of the public as the industry begins to resume activity.
As well as following UK Government industry protocols on passenger numbers, cruise ships visiting Scotland will also be expected to follow all Scottish Government guidance and regulations.
Safety measures implemented by the cruise industry include, passengers and crew must produce a negative PCR test prior to embarking and consent to test during the cruise. At this stage shore excursion bubbles are in place and passengers will only be permitted ashore on an organised ships excursion. This is subject to review by the Scottish Government at the end of the month.
Bob Buskie, Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive, said: “The region’s tourism businesses will be excited to see cruise ships return to the Highlands, and it is an honor to welcome the Marella Explorer 2 following a difficult 16-months for the whole travel industry. This marks a major milestone in our managed return to ‘normality’ which is a moment the whole country has been working towards.
“As we begin this journey towards the return of cruise, the safety of the local community and the Port’s staff remains our number one priority. Cruise tourism restarted in England in the middle of May. Nevertheless, we appreciate that some people may have concerns as restrictions are eased and we will work in partnership with them to address and alleviate any worries that they may have. Now that the July 19th date has been confirmed for Scotland to move to Level 0, we have scheduled a further Covid-secure check with our Port Health representatives from Highland Council Environmental Health Team ahead of the first arrival.”
He added: “Port of Cromarty Firth appreciates the anxiety that many stakeholders feel with regards to the transition to level zero and the opening up of society to pre-covid working arrangements. Rest assured the Port and its customers, employees and supply chain are doing everything possible to manage this transition phase as constructively and safely as possible.”
MS Island Sky to Lerwick
While Marella Explorer 2 will be the first cruise ship to visit the Port of Cromarty Firth, another cruise vessel will be the first to visit Scotland since early 2020.
Lerwick Harbour said last Friday that Noble Caledonia, the small MS Island Sky would berth at Victoria Pier on Monday, 19 July, with 66 passengers on board, which is half the capacity of the vessel
"The first cruise ship to visit Shetland and Scotland since early 2020 is scheduled to arrive in Lerwick Harbour next week," Lerwick Harbour said Friday, July 16.
Similar to what Port of Cromarty Firth said, Lerwick Harbour said the visit would follow the Scottish Government's lifting of a Covid-19-related ban and the reopening of Scottish ports to cruise ships on UK-only sailings, with UK passengers, effective Monday 19 July.
Mike Deegan, Head of Fleet Operations for Noble Caledonia, 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”.
Lerwick Port Authority Chief Executive, Captain 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.”
In the initial phase of restarting, all passengers coming ashore at Lerwick are likely to travel in “bubbles” of up to 15 and observing all precautions.
Steve Matheson, Shetland Islands Manager for VisitScotland, commented: “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.”
Captain Grains added: “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.”
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, Lerwick Harbour said.