By a Newsnet reporter
An SNP MSP has written to the Home Office to raise fears that the UK government’s new immigration rules are affecting the Scottish cruise ship industry.
Stuart McMillan has asked UK Minister for Immigration Mark Harper to rethink the current practice on border controls for cruise passengers before they do lasting damage to the industry.
Passenger numbers in Scotland have been increasing and last year just under 400,000 people visited Scotland on cruise ships.
Previously, United Kingdom Border Force (UKBF) personnel cleared cruise ships on the basis of passenger and crew manifests in advance. However, and without any consultation with the cruise industry, all passengers now have to undergo a full face-to-document check on arrival at the first UK port of call.
With cruise ships carrying up to 3,600 passengers and 1,200 crew members, this places a huge – and unnecessary – burden on the industry, which industry leaders say will deter ships from calling in to Scotland.
Cruise Scotland Chairman Richard Alexander raised the issue with Mr McMillan, and in a letter he said:
“Scotland receives a large volume of transit calls arriving from foreign ports in comparison to the rest of the UK. A number of cruise lines have already expressed extreme dissatisfaction over the current UKBF stance on completing face-to-document checks and passing on additional unwelcome costs.
“At a time when Cruise Lines are already facing increasing operational costs, this is effectively a new tax on their operations. They have also indicated that this will make the UK uncompetitive and unappealing and act as a deterrent for ships to call at UK ports.”
The Cruise industry has been one of Scotland’s success stories in recent years, with passenger numbers having increased five-fold between 2000 and 2010, and is currently worth £41m to the Scottish economy. Scotland was named the 2012 “Destination of the Year” at the Seatrade Cruise Insider Awards.
The prestigious annual award goes to a region, tourism body or association which has made significant strides in promoting cruise tourism.
This week Cable news channel CNN has also voted Scotland as the number one tourist destination for 2013.
In 2012 there were 436 cruise calls (up 14% on 2011) totalling 379,955 passengers (up 19% on 2011) who generated £41.2m for the Scottish economy.
Commenting, West Scotland SNP MSP Mr McMillan said:
“Serious concerns have been raised about the UK government’s immigration checks for cruise ship passengers that cannot be ignored.
“I have written to Mr Harper to ask for clarity on how these rules are affecting Scotland as the voices from the industry say it is hugely negative and must be changed before it is too late.
“We must do everything we reasonably can to promote and sustain this vital industry – which is currently estimated to be worth over £41million to the Scottish economy.
“I have heard passengers have faced lengthy delays as a result of this system, which is having a detrimental effect on the industry in Scotland.”