Cruise Scotland fears immigration checks will harm business

P&O Cruise ship Arcadia
Image caption Cruise ships were said to have brought almost 400,000 people to Scotland last year

Changes to the system of immigration checks for cruise ship passengers could deter liners from stopping in Scotland, it has been claimed.

The UK Border Force had previously cleared cruise ships in advance, on the basis of passenger and crew manifests.

But now passengers must have documents checked, face to face, at the first UK port of call.

Cruise Scotland, which promotes Scottish ports as a destination, warned the changes could damage the industry.

Cruise ships are said to have brought 379,955 people to Scotland's shores last year, up 19% on 2011, and the industry is estimated to contribute £41.2m to the Scottish economy.

Although the rules have not changed, the UK Border Force is said to have changed its interpretation of them.

'Lengthy delays'

Richard Alexander, chairman of Cruise Scotland, said there was "dissatisfaction" within the industry over the changes.

He said: "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 SNP MSP Stuart Macmillan, convener of Holyrood's cross-party group on recreational boating and marine tourism, has now contacted the UK Immigration Minister Mark Harper for clarity on how the rules will affect Scotland.

Mr Macmillan said: "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

"Serious concerns have been raised about the UK government's immigration checks for cruise ship passengers that cannot be ignored.

'Minimum inconvenience'

"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 £41m to the Scottish economy."

A Border Force spokesperson said: "There have been no changes to immigration rules affecting cruise ships. We conduct full checks on all cruise passengers entering the UK to ensure our borders are not compromised.

"We welcome genuine visitors to the UK and we are in discussions with Cruise Scotland to make sure effective plans are in place to protect the border with the minimum inconvenience to passengers."

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