Helen Martin: Is Costa del Lothian ready for cruise set?

Campaigners want to turn the former Cockenzie power station into a new cruise port
Campaigners want to turn the former Cockenzie power station into a new cruise port
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THE estimated number of people opting for cruises this year is around 27.2million, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. That’s up almost two million from last year and up 20.5 per cent from 2011.

Naturally, given its population, the US is top with 11.5 million passengers, but the UK comes a respectable fourth with 1.9 million.

Within a few years we could be counting the numbers who embark from the Port of Prestonpans, a proposal which the local Community Council is strongly campaigning for to replace the former Cockenzie power station.

Anyone living in the area would surely prefer that to the rival application for a massive electricity substation sending power from an offshore wind farm to the National Grid. But what will East Lothian Council and the Scottish Government go for? Well, that’s not so clear.

A cruise terminal, especially one that could also include ferry services to Northern Europe, seems a sound proposition. Holiday cruise passenger numbers are growing. Value for money, quality of service, and customer care on board outranks most package holidays.

If the ship leaves within a reasonable distance from home, it avoids going through the hell of an airport, limited baggage, and the cramped discomfort of a flight.

Having set sail from Rosyth a couple of times, I can testify that it took just over an hour to leave home here in the Capital and settle in our cabin!

So, what are the downsides for Prestonpans? It’s certainly a good, deep water site for a terminal. But cruises already leave the east coast of Scotland from Leith and Rosyth. Overall, would a new port add to cruises departing from or including the Lothians, or simply ‘steal’ business from existing ones?

One aspect of the campaign is to increase job opportunities for young people, even hoping a hospitality college could be set up to train them for work on cruise ships.

The majority of cruise employees working as cabin stewards, waiters, sommeliers, kitchen staff, security teams etc are from foreign countries renowned for exceptional service. They also work for very long hours with few days off . . . that’s the nature of the job, which any passenger will recognise by having the same waiter for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Pay varies but it’s certainly not ‘bountiful’, with ‘tips’ (calculated for passengers to pay on their account) making up a high proportion according to some reports.

So many, including British entertainment staff, also have other roles on board and though it’s all tiring and not highly-paid, it’s an exciting, travelling experience for a few years – but not one that conforms to standard UK rules on pay and hours.

Campaigners also envisage retail, restaurants and coffee shops but most terminals have no such things. Cruise passengers have endless food and drink included on board and want to head off and explore making the most of limited shore time. Those waiting to board ferry services? Well, that’s a potential market.

The biggest problem for Prestonpans is that the Scottish Government has taken on the decision relating to the onshore substation. And with their aim to forge ahead with renewable energy, it could be a done deal.

Good luck Prestonpans. I don’t see it happening – but I hope I’m wrong.