The first cruise ship to visit Scotland since the coronavirus pandemic is scheduled to arrive at Lerwick Harbour next week.
The small MS Island Sky, operated by Noble Caledonia, will berth at Victoria Pier on Monday, the same day the whole of Scotland moves to level zero restrictions.
The vessel, with 66 passengers on board, will stop at Lerwick as part of a voyage that will take in a full circumnavigation of the UK.
Mike Deegan, head of fleet operations for Noble Caledonia, said, “We are delighted to be re-affirming our strong connections with our friends in Scotland, a country we have visited regularly over the last 30 years.
“We are also proud that it is our flagship Island Sky that is the first to visit after restrictions have been eased. Our strict Covid-safe protocols, both on board and ashore, will ensure we shall visit with safety of local communities and those on-board paramount.”
The scheduled arrival of the MS Island Sky comes after the Scottish Government’s lifting of a Covid-19-related ban, as well as the reopening of Scottish ports to cruise ships on UK-only sailings, with UK passengers, from July 19.
Last month, hundreds of UK passengers on a cruise ship sailing around the country could not disembark in Scotland.
The MSC Virtuosa did not travel from Liverpool to Greenock as scheduled due to Scottish Government restrictions at the time.
Domestic voyages to-and-from English ports have been operating since mid-May. And now Scotland is once again welcoming cruise passengers.
Captain Calum Grains, Lerwick Port Authority chief executive, said: “We’ve been working through the many steps required with all interested parties to ensure that Covid measures are in place to protect everyone involved during cruise ship visits.
“These measures meet official requirements and complement the comprehensive steps taken by cruise operators which set some of the highest standards seen in the tourism industry.
“The arrival of Island Sky will be a significant milestone in the road to recovery from Covid and rebuilding the industry’s important contribution to the Shetland and Scottish economy.
“We only had two cruise ship visits in 2020 – in February, ahead of the industry’s voluntary suspension of calls in what should have been another record year for Lerwick, with around 100 calls. This year should have been even better.”
In the initial phase of restarting, all passengers coming ashore at Lerwick are likely to travel in “bubbles” of up to 15 people, while also observing other Covid precautions.
The news was welcomed by tourism chiefs after a tumultuous time for the industry.
Steve Matheson, Shetland Islands manager for VisitScotland, said: “The news the Scottish Government is allowing resumption of domestic cruise visits to Scottish ports is a major boost for the industry and it’s great Shetland will be one of the first to benefit.
“The industry has developed excellent Covid-19 protocols for both onboard ship and port excursions, with community safety central to the measures in place. I know Shetlanders will welcome this cautious and responsible approach.
“The return of passengers will be a welcome financial boost for bus operators, tour guides, attractions and retailers. Tourism is a force for good, creating economic and social value in every corner of Scotland and enhancing the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it.”