Covid: Passengers on UK cruise ship banned from Scotland due to restrictions

9 June 2021, 10:33 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 14:03

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Hundreds of passengers on a cruise ship touring the UK have been told they will not be allowed to disembark in Scotland due to Covid restrictions.

The MSC Virtuosa had been due to dock in Greenock, Inverclyde, on Wednesday morning but did not make the journey from Liverpool on Tuesday.

The ship remained in Liverpool instead of travelling to Greenock.

The seven-night cruise is due to visit Belfast, Southampton and the Isle of Portland in Dorset, with another planned stop at Greenock before returning to Liverpool.

The Scottish Passenger Agents' Association (SPAA), the professional body for travel agents and the sector in Scotland, has seen a copy of an email sent to current passengers by the cruise operator.

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MSC Virtuosa preparing to depart the Port of Southampton on its first cruise since the easing of restrictions
MSC Virtuosa preparing to depart the Port of Southampton on its first cruise since the easing of restrictions. Picture: PA

It says: "Due to the latest Scottish Government Covid-19 restrictions and regulations... we are sorry to inform you that the port call of Greenock has been cancelled.

"No guests are allowed to embark or disembark... This decision has been made by the Scottish Government and is out of our control."

Scottish passengers were due to join the cruise in Greenock and the SPAA said it believed a third of those currently on board would have expected to go ashore for excursions on Wednesday, with the ship set to remain there until 8pm.

Michele Lister, who works for Glasgow-based Glen Travel, boarded the ship in Liverpool and voiced disappointment at the vessel not being allowed to dock in Greenock.

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Passengers look out from the side of the cruise ship MSC Virtuosa as it departs Southampton
Passengers look out from the side of the cruise ship MSC Virtuosa as it departs Southampton. Picture: PA
A person looks out to sea as the cruise ship MSC Virtuosa departs Southampton
A person looks out to sea as the cruise ship MSC Virtuosa departs Southampton. Picture: PA

She said: "We were expecting to go into Greenock for the full day... and we're not allowed to go into my own country which is really disappointing.

"The captain made an announcement over the Tannoy and said that due to the latest government announcement we were not going to be allowed to disembark in Greenock and we were going to remain in Liverpool one other night.

"There's about half a dozen people that I'm aware of on board that are Scottish and they want to show off to the English customers what Scotland's all about and they want to spend the money in the area as well, which is badly needed.

"The majority of Scotland is in Level 2 just now, I don't see why we're not allowed to go in our country - it's safer on here than it is to walk about the street in Glasgow, we had to do two PCR tests to get on board the ship.

"A cruise is my favourite holiday, it's safer for me to be on here and make sure I'm travelling with people that are Covid-free because you could be walking down the street and it can be transmitted by people walking past you."

Joanne Dooey, SPAA president, said in a statement on Tuesday: "We're now facing the situation where Scottish passengers who joined the cruise in Liverpool are barred from setting foot in their own country.

"The SPAA has been asking for clarity on the situation for this particular cruise ship since last week, and all we have received so far is an indication that cruises may only restart when all of Scotland is in Level 1.

"Inverclyde itself is currently in Level 1.

"The Scottish government has effectively closed the country's borders to anything other than road travel."

An MSC spokeswoman said: "We are now awaiting further clarification from the relevant authorities in Scotland about the situation for cruising which regrettably means that we have had to cancel our proposed visit to Greenock.

"We hope that our calls to Scotland with our special cruises can commence soon."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We explained our concerns about the transmission risks posed by cruise vessels in an update to industry on May 24 and confirmed that we would clarify the position in June.

"Following extensive engagement with stakeholders, we have now confirmed that domestic cruises can restart when all of Scotland reaches Level 1 and we have made industry, including the operator, aware of this.

"This decision has been informed by the combination of risks that exists between both cruises and the wider travel context, including the current trajectory of Covid infections and the unknowns around the new Delta variant, in addition to the potential for high risk of uncontained rapid transmission on the cruise."