SCOTS embattled cruise and tourism institutions have joined forces to protest over the Scottish Government's decision to ban passenger vessels from calling into the country's ports.

The decision was taken over “the unknowns around the Delta variant” among other Covid-19 risk factors.

Now cruise and tourism leaders have told ministers that the decision was "disappointing and puzzling" and "yet another hammer blow to a beleaguered tourism sector hoping to get back on its feet after a tough year"

A letter signed by six groups including Cruise Lines International Association, Barrhead Travel Group, the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, Cruise Scotland, the UK Chamber of Shipping and Cruise Britain warn that that the ministers; decision will see Scotland’s people and economy "miss the boat" on the staycation craze this year.

Almost 900 cruises begin their journey in Scotland in a typical year, carrying 800,000 passengers, but firms have been prevented from operating at all since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

They point out that the banned cruises carry only UK residents travelling only between UK ports.

Domestic cruises have been permitted in England since May 17, under Step 3 of the UK Govermment roadmap.

They can operate with up to 1,000 people or 50% capacity, whichever is lower. This capacity limit applies to passengers only.

The new complaints came after MSC Virtuosa was forced to cancel its planned port call at Greenock last week meaning passengers wre unable to disembark or embark.

The Scottish Government has said domestic cruises can only restart when restrictions in all of Scotland reach level one.

It insisted the decision was based on the risks "between both cruises and the wider travel context".

The letter said: "The Scottish Government’s decision to ban cruise ships carrying only British passengers from entering ports, even to allow Scottish passengers to embark, until the country is at level 1 is both disappointing and puzzling.

"It is disappointing because the cruise sector is a major contributor to the Scottish economy, providing essential revenue for our beleaguered hospitality industry, including travel agents, restaurants, bars, tour operators, tourist attractions and hotels, many of which are small businesses.

"In 2019, almost 900 cruise ships calls were made to the Highlands and Islands, each generating over £100,000 for the local economy.

"It is puzzling because cruises have safely restarted around Britain. Stringent health protocols, [have been] put in place to protect local communities at cruise destinations, passengers, and crew, go beyond any other travel sector operating today.

"Scottish ports have been working closely with cruise lines for several months and have developed onshore protocols to safely manage ship arrivals.

"These are cruises carrying only UK residents travelling only between UK ports. We are therefore calling on the Government to clarify what more needs to be done to enable cruise passengers – many of whom are from Scotland – to visit our shores and allow Scotland to be part of the British staycation summer."

The MSC Virtuosa left Liverpool for the seven-night cruise, with planned stops in Greenock in Inverclyde, as well as Belfast, Southampton and the Isle of Portland.

It was then due to stop in Greenock again on the return journey.

It can carry more than 6,000 passengers but has just under 900 currently on board to allow for social-distancing measures.

The Scottish Passenger Agents Association said it understood 75% of passengers on board were fully vaccinated, and had recently tested negative.

The Scottish government afterwards said it fully understood "the impact of the current restrictions on domestic cruises".

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It added: "We explained our concerns about the transmission risks posed by cruise vessels in an update to industry on the 24 May 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 one 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."