In line with the lifting of restrictions on domestic travel within the Common Travel Area, Cruise Belfast has confirmed that the MSC Virtuosa will arrive from Liverpool into Belfast, for a one day visit on 17th June.
In preparation for a gradual return of cruise tourism, Cruise Belfast, industry operators and relevant agencies have worked in close partnership over the last six months to develop a robust, Public Health Agency approved, Covid-19 Port Management Plan for Belfast.
The plan ensures that strict health and safety protocols are in place, to include reduced capacity numbers of vessels, health screening and testing for passengers and crew, and passenger bubbling that restricts shore-side excursions. The protocols have been developed in partnership with Public Health Agency NI, Port Health Authority and Belfast City Council and are based on the UK Chamber of Shipping Framework for Cruise Operations.
Initially, cruise operators in the UK will operate with significantly reduced passenger capacity - up to 1,000 passengers or 50% on each vessel, whichever is lower, allowing UK residents only to board. Many Cruise Lines are planning to operate on the basis of accepting vaccinated passengers only and also to include testing both prior to embarkation and on the cruise.
Cruise guests can only come ashore on pre-arranged excursions and under the current restart guidance, these excursion groups will travel in small socially distant ‘bubbles’, with visits taking place outside of general public access times. Crew members are not currently permitted ashore in ports, unless involved in operational duties such as tour dispatch or check in.
Any visits to Belfast in 2021 will originate within the UK and will be conditional on no restrictions to non-essential travel within the Common Travel Area.
In addition, Cruise Belfast has extended the terminal reception area to allow more space for health screening, installed Plexiglas dividers and added hand sanitisers and thermal people counters to manage the flow of people. Seating has also been removed from the terminal and cleansing has been upgraded. Twice weekly testing for all staff in contact with passengers has been introduced.
These strict protocols are precautionary and are aimed to provide the safest possible environment for cruise guests, crew, local staff and the wider local population.
Under UK government guidelines, domestic cruises for UK guests have been allowed since the 17th of May. The first of these cruises departed Southampton on the 20th of May and to date have concentrated on English port calls. The UK Chamber of Shipping has provided guidance notes for passengers and the industry for cruising during the pandemic, which are integral to the Government Guidance and will be followed by Cruise Belfast as it prepares to accept cruise ship arrivals this year.
The first call to Belfast this year is scheduled to be the MSC Virtuosa on the 17th of June.
Michael Robinson, Port Director at Belfast Harbour, said: “Belfast Harbour has worked closely with the Public Health Agency, Visit Belfast, Port Health, Belfast City Council and the cruise industry to develop a Port Management plan, that has been approved by the PHA, and that can deliver a safe return to cruise activity in Northern Ireland. Our cruise partners are working in close conjunction with PHA, UK government and the Chamber of Shipping to ensure robust protocols are in place across all UK destination ports.
“The cruise lines familiar to Belfast are making plans for a cruise restart in line with current government guidance and we are looking forward to receiving them. Cruise visitors that arrive here will receive the customary warm welcome and we are confident that robust processes are in place to ensure the safety of visitors and locals alike.”
Mary Jo McCanny, Director of Visitor Servicing at Visit Belfast, added: “The gradual re-introduction of domestic cruising will make 2021 completely different from any previous cruise season. However, we are confident that with all the measures that have put in place, Visit Belfast will still be able to deliver the first-class welcome the city is renowned for.
“Prior to Covid-19, cruise tourism was one of Belfast’s biggest tourism success stories and as we look to rebuild the city region’s visitor economy, we are confident that cruise tourism will play an important role.