Cork loses €16m on cancelled cruise visits, but future looks bright post-pandemic

Cork loses €16m on cancelled cruise visits, but future looks bright post-pandemic

Cruise ship Independence of the Seas berthed in Cobh in 2018. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The island of Ireland has lost an estimated €100m from cancelled cruise liner visits due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Cork region missing out on around €16m.

It's not expected that liner visits will get back to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2023 or 2024, but the future does look good for attracting even more to these shores.

That's according to Captain Michael McCarthy, chairman of Cruise Europe, the umbrella body which promotes the region to cruise liner companies.

Capt McCarthy, lives in Cobh, Co Cork, which is one of the three main destinations for liners in the island, coming in behind Belfast and Dublin.

While the Republic is still closed to liner visits, most of Europe has reopened as has the North, with Belfast expecting up to 70 ship visits for the remainder of this year.

However, while this year is likely to be a write-off for the Republic, Mr McCarthy said the future looks bright in the coming years.

“Looking to the future, there's a fantastic opportunity for Ireland because cruise passengers of European origin no longer want to fly long distances to join cruise ships,” Capt McCarthy said.

There will be increased European visitors to European destinations. 

"There is also a returning demand from the USA and Canada to cruise in Northern Europe, including Ireland,” Capt McCarthy said.

He said that last year, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it was estimated that three million Europeans would take a cruise.

"There's a latent demand for cruises for them without the necessity to take long haul flights.” 

He added that the Port of Cork is ideally placed to attract more cruise liners in the years ahead, especially as Dublin Port is carrying out a lot of reconstruction at present and as a result will be limiting the number of liner visits there for the foreseeable future to less than 100 per year.

The Port of Cork is looking at a joint venture project with the private sector to create a second cruise liner terminal in Cobh for large vessels.

Meanwhile, it also has plans to create a berth for smaller vessels at Marino Point (the former IFI terminal).

Capt McCarthy said he expects up to 60 cruise liners to visit Cobh next year, including all the major lines such as Royal Caribbean Princess, MSC, Aidi, Carnival, P&O, Cunard, Fred Olsen Saga and Norwegian Cruise Line.

I'd be anticipating by 2024, we will return to the 2019 levels of visits to Cork of more than 100 ships per year.

Capt McCarthy said that living in Cobh he could understand why some locals didn't want to see cruise ships arriving this year, because of fears about Covid-19.

However, he said cruise liners were now extremely safe because of the protocols they had introduced.

“In the last 12 months, Cruise Europe has been working closely with cruise lines and the EU to develop protocols and procedures to return to (safe) cruising. 

"All liners and ports have a template. 

"All passengers and crew have to be fully vaccinated and the crew members are tested at least once a week. 

"I have only heard of two cases in the last few months among crews and none for passengers,” Capt McCarthy said.

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