THE chief executive of Peel Ports says that Inverclyde Council’s opposition to helping cruise ships caught up in the coronavirus pandemic “has not gone unnoticed” by the industry. Council leader Councillor Stephen McCabe has described the response as “ungracious”, saying there are “noses out of joint”.
Clyde port operator Peel Ports have been approached by a number of cruise lines which need safe and temporary anchorages for passenger-less vessels that are out of service because of Covd-19 travel restrictions. The council has no power to stop ships coming to the Clyde but had written to Peel Ports urging it to reconsider accepting cruise vessels for lay-up at Clyde anchorages.
In a letter replying to the council, Mark Whitmore said: “Whilst it is of primary importance to consider the health emergency, we also need to recognise that in the weeks ahead, once we have beaten the virus and looked after our people, our thoughts will need to focus on the economic challenges.
“It has not gone unnoticed within the cruise industry that Inverclyde has been unwilling to support the sector when it needed practical help and at a time when other ports in Scotland and around the wider UK and Ireland coastline have been more accommodating.”
He explains: “There is already a strict, well-established protocol in place for any vessel arriving at any port, to make a ‘Maritime Declaration of Health’ prior to arrival. Should an issue — including a Covid-19 case — be declared, then the local port health team will assess and advise the recommended steps to take.
“Once vessels are alongside, we have a range of measures in place to maintain social distancing to protect both ship’s crew and shoreside personnel from disease transmission. These protocols ensure the safety of all vessels calling into port, including those unloading and loading cargo.
“The ships requiring anchorage will have a minimal crew on board and their interface with the shoreside will be no different to — perhaps even less than — any other cargo ship calling into Greenock.
“As such, I cannot see any reason why cruise vessels using the port for lay-up should be treated any differently to any other ship calling on the Clyde.”
“You can be assured that we share the same desire to keep the local population, the port workforce and crews of visiting ships as safe as possible at all times, but especially now.”
His letter, dated yesterday (18 May), added that there were no confirmed vessels due for anchorage at Inverclyde and that Peel Ports would continue to communicate with port health officials and advise accordingly of any further requests or developments.
Inverclyde Council leader, councillor Stephen McCabe, said: “Clearly their reply to the council is a wee bit ungracious. Given the uncertain times we are living in, we can forgive ungraciousness especially when noses are clearly out of joint over this issue.
“However, there is a clear failure to grasp genuinely held concerns from elected representatives both in the council chamber and in the chamber of the Parliament over the pressure on health services, especially at a time when we are suffering as a community and a country with so much loss.
“There can be no doubt that Inverclyde has been and will continue to be a welcoming place for cruise ship visitors coming to Scotland and nothing in this situation is likely to affect that reputation or for that matter our reputation as a port of safe harbour for anyone in distress.
“We don’t need to look back further than when one of Peel’s customers broke its moorings recently and the council and community without hesitation came together to much acclaim by passengers and crew to support them.
“It is clear that there is a gap exposed here over this situation and it may be that there is a need for a more defined national response. It could be that a grown-up conversation needs to take place across the country about the role of port authority and whether in modern Scotland it is appropriate that this sits with a commercial organisation.
“Our parliamentarians may wish to consider whether this situation has exposed a need for legislation on this issue.”