Cruises making a welcome return to Stornoway
Stornoway is set to welcome its first cruise ship in almost 18 months on Friday following the easing of travel restrictions. However, there will be “no free movement around the town”.
Cruise ships have been welcome in other UK ports since May but Scotland has remained closed to business.
Now the Stornoway Port Authority will host the Hebridean Sky carrying 66 British passengers and calling only at UK ports.
A spokesman for the authority said: “We expect this cruise call to be followed by a further six over the course of the season, with the last call of the year currently scheduled for September 20th.
“UK Government, Scottish Government and cruise operators have implemented strict protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and members of the public.
"There will be no free movement around the town and passengers will be required to remain in their bubbles.
“As with all Covid restrictions, these protocols are under constant review and as a result, the policy of only allowing disembarkations in pre-arranged shore excursions will continue for the time being.
“Stornoway Port Authority appreciate the importance of the cruise industry to the Islands, and view it is a vital part of our Deep Water Port project.
"We look forward to the arrival of the Noble Caledonia vessel later in the week and the welcome return of an operator that has been a regular visitor to Stornoway for many years.”
Like other ports which have become increasingly reliant on the cruise ship trade, Stornoway has lost considerable revenue during the pandemic and is anxiously awaiting the recovery of the international cruising market.
Prior to the pandemic, Stornoway received about 15,000 cruise passengers a year but is inhibited by the inability of larger ships to berth in the harbour, meaning some of the larger ones currently have to rely on small tenders to ferry passengers onto land, a practice which is very weather dependent.
However, the new terminal will allow vessels up to 360 metres to berth at the port, making it the deep water berth north of Greenock. According to current plans this should happen by May 2023.
According to chief executive Alex MacLeod: “The cruise industry has been desperate for a large west coast cruise berth for many years”.
The £50 million deep-water project is also expected to create other marine-related opportunities, along with hydrogen development.
Meanwhile, another familiar vessel around the Minches and the isles, the Hebridean Princess, has relocated to the south of England because of the continuing Scottish cruise ban and additional restrictions.
She is undertaking a a series of cruises in July and August with departures from Cardiff and Portland in Dorset before returning to her home port of Oban on September 3rd.
The Hebridean Princess – a small luxury cruise vessel which was formerly the CalMac ferry Columba – is due to include Barra on her first foray back into west coast waters and is advertising a full schedule for September and October with some cruises already sold out.