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Covid-19 safety pledge from Port of Cromarty Firth ahead of visit of first cruise liner to Invergordon since 2019

By Calum MacLeod

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THE return of a cruise ship to an Easter Ross port this weekend for the first time since 2019 has been hailed "a major milestone" in the coronavirus bounce-back bid.

But port bosses have accepted the "anxiety" felt by some over the gradual return of the business to Invergordon – worth an estimated £18m a year to the Highlands – and pledged everything will be done to make the transition as safe as possible.

The arrival of the the Marella Explorer 2 on Sunday will be the first of four visits it will make to the port throughout the season, carrying British passengers and calling at British ports only.

Governments and the cruise industry have put in place a range of strict protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and the public as the industry resumes activity.

The Marella Explorer 2, seen here in foreign climes, will make her first visit to the Cromarty Firth on Sunday.
The Marella Explorer 2, seen here in foreign climes, will make her first visit to the Cromarty Firth on Sunday.

Safety measures include a negative PCR test prior to embarking for all passengers and crew and consent to testing during the cruise.

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, pledged safety was the priority as a "major milestone" was marked. Cruise operations ground to a halt in March 2020 as the country went into lockdown. He said: ""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."

The port says it has has worked with Highland Council, Invergordon Community Council, Invergordon Development Trust, Police Scotland, Stagecoach and local tour operators to agree solutions to enhance management of cruise traffic and passengers.

Mr Buskie acknowledged anxiety over 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.”

Cromarty Firth councillor Maxine Smith said: "It’s been a strange two years with no cruise ships coming into the Invergordon port. It’s good to hear there’ll be a few British ships coming in now. It’s far from a normal season but I’m sure the shops and attractions will welcome this anyway. We look forward to 2022 which I understand will be a bumper season for cruise ships coming to the Highlands and will help to return our economy to normal."

Tony Mackay: 'Encouraging'.
Tony Mackay: 'Encouraging'.

Highland economist Tony Mackay carried out the original feasibility study advising diversification into the cruise liner business.

He said: "This is very good news. The cruise liner business has become very important for the Cromarty Firth and the wider Highland economy, particularly since the downturn in the offshore oil and gas industry. Invergordon port has successfully diversified into the business and the cruise liner passengers visit and spend money in many other parts of the Highlands."

He said: "It is undoubtedly an encouraging sign that the tourism industry is recovering."

David Richardson: 'Joined-up thinking'.
David Richardson: 'Joined-up thinking'.

David Richardson, Highland development manager of the Federation of Small Businesses, called it "one more step back on the road to recovery for the Highland visitor economy" and said it would be welcomed by many businesses.

He said: "We need to see more joined-up thinking, co-ordination, leadership and investment if we are to gain maximum, sustainable benefit from the opportunities afforded by this important market."

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