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Business / Tough times ahead for port authority as pandemic bites

Ten cancelled visits for April/May so far

The Caribbean Princess was the largest cruise liner to visit Lerwick harbour this season - Photo: Ian Leask
Lerwick's cruise ship season is being decimated by coronavirus.

LERWICK Port Authority (LPA) is facing a potential “seven-figure” hole in its income, depending on the duration of a coronavirus-led slump in trade.

The LPA is continually liaising with cruise line operators over their plans for the summer. April’s visitor list has been wiped and some of the operators have no plans to “reactivate” their cruises in May, according to chief executive Captain Calum Grains.

There have been 10 cancelled visits from the cruise ship sector so far for April and May, though more are anticipated.

The cruise line sector is just one piece in the port authority jigsaw; oil and gas and fishing movements are also well down.

Grains said: “We are being severely affected just now with the reduction in oil and gas customers. It is affecting all sectors at the moment. There are fish markets ongoing but there is a serious reduction in the amount of boxes going through.”

There are no plans to cancel markets yet, but landings are limited to try and match the demand that is there.

Grains added that coronavirus was driving the downturn in oil and gas traffic but was also linked to the crash in the oil price, which was in turn reducing the incentive to continue production.

Lerwick Port Authority's chief executive Sandra Laurenson with her successor designate Calum Grains.
LPA chief executive Captain Calum Grains Photo: Ben Mullay/LPA

As far as the cruise business went, he said the extent of the damage was an “unknown quantity” as yet, but “it would be potentially a seven figure sum and that would just be for the port, not the suppliers and supply chain and all the rest.”

Some of the smaller cruise ships pick up fuel, water, supplies and consumables when they visit Lerwick. The larger ships tend to resupply at their major turn around ports.

As well as this is the cash spend by passengers themselves, which have reached record numbers the past two seasons. Shetland was last year named in Lonely Planet’s latest top ten of must-see European destinations.

Grains added: “It is a very concerning outlook for us. We are really an essential service so we try to operate the port and keep things going.”

This included changing work and shift patterns so that port services could be maintained and staff contact minimised.

Meanwhile the Norwegian sail training vessel Statsraad Lehmkuhl, which was due to visit Lerwick in the coming weeks, has cancelled all upcoming voyages until 8 June.