Orkney Islands Council’s Head of Marine Services, Transportation and Harbour Master Jim Buck confirmed that the first cruise ship to call into local waters is scheduled for Friday 30 July.
The Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas is due to visit Kirkwall as part of a seven-night cruise on a round trip from Southampton.
Jim Buck said:
“While the visit of any vessel is never confirmed until they actually arrive, we expect the visit of the Anthem of the Seas to be the first in Orkney since February 2020.
“This is a large ship, capable of carrying 4,180 passengers – however the actual numbers on board will be considerably reduced to allow compliance of distancing and for the safety of all.
“The Scottish Government had decided that it will be up to the cruise line itself to risk assess their own circumstances re the numbers of passengers which can be safely carried while adhering to the 1m social distancing required in Scotland until 9 August at the earliest.
“The vessel itself will follow stringent health and safety onboard protocols which have been put in place over many months in collaboration with the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland.
“They will sail with a fully vaccinated crew and only UK residents over 18 who are fully vaccinated and those under 18 who have negative test results. Royal Caribbean will require proof of vaccination.
“Royal Caribbean has partnered with expert medical and scientific minds to guide them in the development of comprehensive protocols to protect everyone. And they’re working with local health authorities in homeport countries to ensure guests meet current inbound travel requirements.
“Other enhancements to the pre-boarding, onboard and post-cruise experience include – 100 per cent fresh, filtered air and continuous fresh air replacement; medical grade cleaning standards; upgraded medical facilities; reduced contact through use of the Royal app on your phone; and staggered boarding and disembarkation times.
“We do have bookings for further cruise ship calls into the county during August, September and October – however, we cannot confirm at this time, how many of those will go ahead.
“All passengers be required to wear face coverings on board in communal areas and maintain the 1m distancing. Cruise ships each have their own Covid management plans, audited by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, including a comprehensive testing programme for passengers and crew and enhanced onboard medical facilities.”
See also: Before you board – Getting Ready to Cruise
Vaccination prevents most people from the worst effects of the virus but they can still both catch and transmit Covid.
At the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020 cruise ships soon became notorious for the rapid spread of the virus within passengers, crew and into the wider community.
The British-registered Diamond Princess was the first cruise ship to have a major outbreak on board, with the ship quarantined at Yokohama from 4 February 2020 for approximately one month. Over 700 people became infected, and 14 people died. At the time, the ship accounted for over half the reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 outside of mainland China.
You can read more about that here: To Cruise or Not To Cruise? The tragedy of the Diamond Princess started with just 1 infected person but conditions on board were such that the virus spread rapidly.
Royal Caribbean has advised that they are looking at “bubble” excursions for the visit to Orkney. It looks, therefore, that very few places and businesses in Orkney will be visited by cruise ship passengers with perhaps Historic Environment Scotland’s Skara Brae being one of the few places seeing any economic benefit.
Marine Services in Orkney has led two full-scale exercises to test resumption plans with teams from all areas of the harbour and local community who would be involved when a cruise ship makes a port visit.
In line with European and UK Government guidance for the safe return of cruise, the exercises were designed to rigorously test the plans in place for a ship’s visit under Level 0 Covid restrictions.
They included a physical test of planned passenger management at Hatston Pier, including additional safety barriers, which will be in place to ensure the required social distancing. This new barrier system will allow cruise line staff to direct passengers ashore and on to specially co-ordinated buses.
New signage will advise passengers and crew on measures in place at that time. All guidelines will be strictly adhered to with all passengers – unless medically exempt – required to wear face coverings.
Jim Buck continued:
“As they return to sea, everyone’s health and safety remains the top priority – this is in all our interests. We know that outbreaks can happen for any number of reasons, as has been shown lately in the county – and that is why extensive measures will be carried out by the operators themselves and by ourselves here to try and ensure this resumes as safely as possible for everyone.
“Over the last year, the cruise sector has worked tirelessly with the Scottish and UK Governments and industry partners to develop and strengthen health and safety measures which now exceed those of any other travel sector and are the result of extensive collaboration.
“Cruise visits are important for the Orkney economy. But the health and wellbeing of our local communities is our overriding priority as we’ve carefully developed robust plans for the safe return of cruise ships to our islands.
“We have and will continue to follow guidance from the Scottish Government and health professionals. This is another step on the road to recovery and the new normal and signals hope for moving forward and out of the pandemic.”
Orkney has seen a significant rise in Covid cases since it went to Level 0. The virus moves with travel, passing on from person to person. England has removed all restrictions and with already rising cases scientists have warned about the huge rise in infections, many of which will end in death, as a result. Johnson’s Freedom Day ‘a dangerous and unethical experiment’
In Scotland which is currently at Level 0 restrictions are still in place:
- get the vaccine when you are offered it
- wear a face covering, clean hands and surfaces regularly
- avoid crowded places and stay 1m away from other people
- meet outside if you can, and open windows when indoors
- if you have symptoms get a test and stay at home
- take regular tests if you don’t have symptoms to reduce the risk of spreading the virus
- use the Protect Scotland and Check-in Scotland apps
Scotland has seen a slight decline in cases but people are still getting really ill and some will die. Long covid is also affecting many. When a positive case occurs people have to self isolate. This affects families, friends and some businesses have to close, as we have seen recently in Orkney.
Scotland’s Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is working with other agencies to analyse waste water for traces which indicate the presence of Covid in communities. You can see this data from 13th of July 2021 is very concerning. Not everyone realises they have covid or get tested so analysing the waste water is a very good way to assess the prevalence of the virus in local areas.
Guidance Notes to Support the Phased Return of Commercial Charter Operations and Fully Serviced Sailing/Cruising Holidays Operating in and from Scottish Waters and to Support a Safe Return to Boating for Private Cruising Vessels and Leisure Users in these Waters V3 3rd July 2020
COVID-19 is currently affecting 220 countries and territories. Covid live update The UK has one of the worst rates of Covid in the world.
It didn’t have to be this way.
New Zealand – 20th July 2021
Scotland 20th July 2021
1,604 new cases of COVID-19 reported
13 new reported deaths of people who have tested positive
47 people were in intensive care yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
529 people were in hospital yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
7,813 people have died who have tested positive as at 20 July 2021
10,220 deaths have been registered in Scotland where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate up to 11 July 2021
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
What fresh madness is this?
Unfortunately – we don’t have foxes in Orkney…………….
Whilst I am not convinced that this is a good time to start cruises again, I have to admit that the company appears to have at least tried to reduce risks: PCR tests can normally detect infection in the vaccinated, whereas rapid antigen tests often can not, due to the in many cases lower viral load when infection occurs in vaccinated people.
The issue is that much can happen in three days before departure… and someone who tests negative prior to departure might in fact test positive a few days into the journey but obviously there won’t be a PCR test opportunity onboard.
‘Vaccinated Guests must bring the negative result of an PCR test for COVID-19 taken within 3 days of sailing.’
And this is even more concerning:
‘Unvaccinated Guests, 2-17 years old, must take a complimentary rapid antigen test at the terminal and receive a negative result in order to sail.’
Rapid antigen tests are far less reliable than PCR tests and whilst they should pick up potential superspreaders (people with high viral load but symptom free), their reliability is reduced in other cases. (see also: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/ebiom/article/PIIS2352-3964(21)00248-6/fulltext).
To be honest: I am a bit worried for coach drivers (and others)….
And I would be far less worried (about cruise ships, other visitors and generally people socialising) if everyone everywhere in public would be obliged to wear properly fitted FFP2 masks. This would greatly reduce infection risks and normal business could be retained.