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.
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 ?