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The Strange Case of Orkney Islands Council & 200 Cruise Ships #ClimateCrisis

Orkney Islands Council is set to welcome 200 Cruise ships into the islands in 2022 despite serious concerns from many islanders and a little thing called ‘A Climate Emergency’.

This bizarre decision by Orkney’s local politicians comes just as the world is about to meet in Glasgow for the international conference aiming to deal with the climate catastrophe – #COP26

On the OIC website the council boasts proudly of its role in mass tourism with Harbour Master Jim Buck saying :

“Many were very relieved to see a cautionary return of cruise to our shores in August – and our meticulously planned procedures – in line with Government and Public Health guidance – have held a steady course for us all so far.

“As time passes and restrictions are further eased, we, as the port authority, will continue to follow the guidance. The approach has been a measured one so far – with much reduced passenger numbers and initially only allowing ‘bubble’ tour excursions. More recently, travellers have been allowed to make their own arrangements and enjoy the town centre and the local businesses.

“We do not have a crystal ball and cannot second guess where the guidance may take us in 2022 – but suffice to say we will continue to follow whatever the Government and health professional advice may be at that time.

“The pandemic has not taken away people’s love of cruising and, in particular, their love of coming to Orkney – many of whom are return visitors. Orkney is well known for setting the standard and this is only possible due to a team effort – my own team at Harbours and Transport but also to the huge cast across Orkney which works so hard to make the cruise sector here so successful.

“From the meet and greet and shore excursion teams, to the coach operators, tour guides and private tour providers, and to all those sites and shops which do so much to give our visitors a wonderful experience – it takes a lot of hard work and commitment to reach this standard and we know that visitors have a great time here which is born out by the number of cruise visits growing year on year.

“The challenge of course is to stay at the top and to wisely manage further growth and opportunity and, of course, we must ensure that this is able to happen without being to the detriment of the quality of visit to Orkney, but also to the charm with which Orkney offers.

“The majority of those calling are in small to medium category, with the larger vessels accounting for a small percentage of visiting ships.

“Of course, with the increased numbers of ships calling, also comes additional revenue which goes into the Miscellaneous Piers and Harbours Account – and which has to, by law, be transferred to a specific Repairs and Maintenance Budget to help pay for the upkeep of Orkney’s 29 council-owned piers and harbours.”

Remember in 2020 when all the politicians were saying that the pandemic would see us coming out of it to a new way of doing things, that we realised how important our environment is and that in order to prevent future pandemics that we must address the climate emergency. Everyone was pressing to do things differently.

So let us recall, because Jim Buck and the OIC seem to have forgotten all of that, what happened to kick off this pandemic which has seen over 10,000 dead in Scotland.

In the journal Nature the following was published on 26th of March 2020

On 1 February (2020), a passenger who had disembarked from the Diamond Princess days earlier in Hong Kong tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. The ship was quarantined immediately after it arrived in Japanese waters on 3 February, with 3,711 passengers and crew members on board. Over the next month, more than 700 people on board were infected — including a nurse — and for weeks the ship was the site of the largest outbreak outside China.

Outbreaks seed easily on the vessels because of the close confines and high proportions of older people who tend to be more vulnerable to the disease. Since the Diamond Princess, at least 25 other cruise ships have confirmed COVID-19 cases — including 78 cases on the Grand Princess, which was quarantined off the coast of California. Returned passengers have also seeded outbreaks in countries including the United States.

Nature 26 March 2020

Let us be clear on this – there has been no consultation with islanders before this decision to welcome 200 cruise ships.

Claims that “Many were very relieved to see a cautionary return of cruise to our shores in August ” are statements without substance. I could add that I encountered many islanders, including those with businesses, who were not keen on the return of cruise ships, particularly as this also affected the stay in our islands of those visitors that holiday with us for longer than a few hours. Those visitors who stay in our holiday accommodation, go to our cafes and visit our local shops were unable to get into many of the most popular tourist sites because cruise ship tours had taken up all the allotted spaces. And if that was bad this year can you imagine what it will be like in 2022 with 200 cruise ships?

No thought is being given to those visitors who come to Orkney for a quality experience: for our culture; wildlife; food and drink; archaeology; and wonderful landscapes. Those visitors spend a lot of money across all the islands, in every community and support local crafts. The words of the Chair of the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Graham Sinclair ring very hollow indeed when he talks about the “pride we have in our county, and the warm Orkney welcome that awaits our visitors at every turn.” Of course he is only referring to cruise ship visitors because the quality of stay of independent visitors will be severely degraded.

Now let us turn to the climate crisis and pollution.

Venice has banned cruise ships. That has been at the request of UNESCO because the ships cause pollution and were eroding the foundations of the city. Since the ban, water quality in the canals has improved. Venice was also endangered with being taken off UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

What do you think the effect of thousands upon thousands of people visiting the Heart of Neolithic Orkney will have on those vulnerable sites ? Already there are very few days when the inner ring at Brodgar is open and Skara Brae is a fragile site. World Heritage status was wonderful for Orkney’s tourist trade but just as it can be bestowed, so it can be taken away, and there is a very real danger of that happening with the kind of mass tourism being welcomed by our council next year.

Skara Brae, 2017, when a cruise ship was in

An article by James Ellsmoor published in Forbes in 2019 states:

 A passenger’s carbon footprint triples in size when taking a cruise and the emissions produced can contribute to serious health issues. On top of the pollution caused by their exhaust fumes, cruise ships have been caught discarding trash, fuel, and sewage directly into the ocean.

Friends of the Earth have produced a 2021 Report Card on Cruise Ships

Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card ranks 18 major cruise lines and 202 cruise ships — AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Oceania Cruises, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean Int’l, Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises, and Virgin Voyages — according to four environmental criteria: Sewage Treatment, Air Pollution Reduction, Water Quality Compliance and Transparency.

Please check it out because some of these cruise ships are the ones, whilst we’re in this climate emergency, that our local leaders are welcoming to our islands.

With absolutely no consultation, with no engagement with all the people of Orkney, OIC is falling over itself to encourage 200 cruise ships to come to Orkney.

What can we do ? Here’s a thought – 2022 is also the year of local council elections and if we really want to keep Orkney Green and Healthy for all of us we need to hold to account those councillors that are ignoring the Climate Crisis we are in for a few bucks brought by 200 cruise ships. In addition immense pressure will be put on our roads with the increased traffic of tour buses. The World Heritage status of Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar will be threatened and this form of mass tourism is of no benefit at all to the outer isles, the south isles or indeed most of Orkney with the exception of a few sites and one or two places in Kirkwall.

And surely when the attention of the world is turned to Scotland with #COP26 – what on Earth does our council think it is doing ?

Fiona Grahame

Image credit Bell

5 replies »

  1. Most excellent Fiona.
    And meanwhile I will stay home – I live here – but these days, I am best staying home due to health complications. I can’t remember when I last spent time in Kirkwall or Stromness.
    We go for walks – outdoors, but we weigh up where is likely to be ‘busy’ before we even do that. Admittedly, in the ‘season’ that’s been the case for years, but now it’s not just a matter of crowds, it a matter of concern for our health.
    When we do go out for walks sometimes the middle-aged bladder has to wait, uncomfortably, ‘til I get home, as I’m not prepared to use the public loos. Too much information? Not really – it’s all relevant. And public loos should be for us, too!!!

    So, we stay home and watch out the window as another liner sweeps majestically across the bay towards Kirkwall, usually belching out fumes as it goes. One of them sat there in the harbour, belching fumes for most of the day and, as it was a still day the fumes didn’t disperse. I felt sorry for anyone living nearby – especially anyone with respiratory difficulties.

    As you say, Fiona – the local elections will come round – can I suggest that, in the run-up to the elections, TON interviews each candidate and asks where they stood/where they stand on the main issues which have turned up since the last election.
    Not just interview candidates, but ‘grill’ them, which is what is needed in these times.

    And, why is the Council Leader – aka King James the First of Orkney – not elected by the people?

  2. About mass tourism in Orkney and especially cruise ships
    Fiona Grahame, The Orkney News 2021-08-31

    It takes my breath away that a decision as far-reaching as the one welcoming the 200 cruise ships to Orkney has been taken by just a handful of people – WITHOUT EVEN CONSULTING THE ISLAND POPULATION!!!!!!!!
    Everything mentioned in this article I have witnessed and am witnessing to be true. Quite apart from the very real and pressing questions about sustainability and responsibility for climate issues I most strongly perceive what is written about the very different qualities of cruise tourists and individual tourists to be true.
    The tourists who have chosen Orkney as their designated holiday place have done so out of interest for the Orkneys, be it the culture, the archeology, it’s wildlife or the stunning landscapes. Through them the benefits of tourism (which always have to be weighed most carefully against it’s drawbacks…) are spread over the whole area and reach many individual shops, businesses and offers of accommodation. Most of them prepare themselves carefully for their stay, reading about what interests them most, and then realising that they can’t go and see what they have planned to see because the cruise ship mobs take up all the visiting slots is deeply disappointing. I also perceive it to be somewhat deceitful to advertise all the Orcadian delights online, luring interested visitors there – and then preventing them from actually visiting the said delights.
    Cruise ship tourists are ON the cruise FOR the cruise – Kirkwall is one stop of many, and in their few hours of staying they don’t even dip a toe into what Orkney is all about. A few businesses make good money and also generate summertime jobs, the harbour authorities reap the benefits of the fees – but that’s it.
    I have already written on the subject once or twice in the comments section and I don’t want to get too boring – but I do feel the need to repeat the warning I have given,please NOT to follow the example of most of the world’s tourist sites in letting mass tourism overwhelm and destroy their true treasures. I am Swiss, connected to Orkney for 31 years and in the process of moving to my house in Kirkwall, and being Swiss I know all and more about stunningly beautiful landscapes and sites of interest being mercilessly exploited and totally spoiled by the lure of easy money made through mass tourism.
    Of course it is the most beautiful parts of my country that have been despoiled by my own people’s greed and missing foresight – first by the rich and the famous, creating horrors like St.Moritz, then by the masses pouring in because local authorities are turning over backwards to make flooding everything easy.
    Orkney is still at the beginning of the really big tourism business, and I hope and pray it’s people will show their awareness of the preciousness of what they have in custody and will keep from destroying what makes Orkney such a great place to stay in the first place.
    Elisabeth Sidler

    • Hi Elisabeth
      You make a very good point re. the different reasons why visitors come here.

      Here’s a tale …a true tale.
      I know someone who was asked by a woman who had just got off a liner, how could she get to Edinburgh? He answered that she could go to the airport and catch a ‘plane.
      Presumably some idea that she was in Scotland – but no clear idea of where – and – does it matter to them? Are they even clear where, or what, Scotland is – or is it just ‘part of England’?

      A funny story – with very serious implications.

      • Dear Bernie!
        A similar funny story witnessed by myself about ten years ago in front of the Kairds shop:
        One lady tourist from the Liner invasion had the young shop assistant outside by the picture postcards and made her explain every one of the cards on offer, with me waiting outside and other customers queuing inside the shop.
        In the end she bought one of the Ring of Brodgar and blithely said to the assistant:”A lovely picture to remind me of Shetland!”

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