Cruise ships berthing in Inverclyde

A situation has arisen out of the Covid-19 crisis that needs addressed. There is a request to berth cruise ships in the lower Clyde. I have seen the press release but I have not been briefed by the council in this matter and therefore I admit that I don’t know the exact details. I believe it is up to 12 ships and they carry a skeleton crew of on average 150 people. There are no plans for passengers to be on board at any time. The situation, as I understand it, is to allow these ships to drop anchor in the Clyde from the Island of Cumbrae up to the Esplanade. They would effectively be at sea and isolated. I believe this is called a ‘hot lay up’. But the difficulties arise when the crew require to be rotated. The skeleton crew would leave the ships to be replaced by a new one. This presents difficulties. We would need to ensure that both crews were virus free. This would involve testing both on the ships and wherever the skeleton crew were coming from, presumably lots of different places. Who will do this testing and vouch for the health of the crew? And what of the crew members leaving the ship, where are they travelling on to? Are they getting in to trains or heading to Glasgow Airport? Remember at the start of this crisis cruise ships were particularly bad places for outbreaks moving quickly through the passengers and crew. Let’s presume and it’s a big ask, that we can test the crews and that everybody is virus free, what happens when somebody falls ill on board from another illness? Will that place a strain on our local NHS resource? Another issue is that at some point each ship will have to dock. This is required to change crew as previously mentioned and to take on supplies. Can this be done without the ship physically berthing or is there nothing to be gained by that? Who owns the ships? Do they not have a home port that they could return to? Can we share this challenge? This request is not unique to Inverclyde. There are cruise ships anchored in the Firth of Forth already. How are they dealing with this situation? 

The conflict as I see it is this. Greenock is a maritime port with a strong tradition of shipbuilding and a deep bond with the sea and seafarers. When a ship needs a safe haven then it is expected, around the world, that one would be made available. When France fell to the Nazis during the second word war much of the French Navy was at sea. They came to Greenock and we were proud to provide them with a base. Providing shelter in a storm is a given maritime tradition. The situation we have today is obviously not like for like but we do need to ask ourselves, if not us then who? Who are we saying is responsible for the health and well-being of the crew? I would say it is the ship operators. So who are they? How many ships do they operate and where are they all planned to go?

Inverclyde council have said they oppose the plan. But its not their decision. I am sure they could use health and safety policy to make it hard to implement the plan. The rights of access to the Clyde waters doesn’t even belong to the Scottish Government. As I understand it, Peel Ports are the harbour authority and only the UK Government can close a port. I find this particularly annoying as I asked the Chief Medical Officer and the Secretary of State for health on the third of March what plans they had for airports and seaports and as yet they don’t seem to have considered this matter. We, along with the crews, would appear to be at the mercy of a UK Government that have not covered themselves in glory in their handling of this crisis. I shall be trying to ascertain the facts and I shall be pushing for answers from the UK Government.