Ferry leased to house Ukrainian refugees shows what could be done to boost tourism and trade – Kenny MacAskill MP

Leasing the Tallink ferry to house Ukrainian refugees in Leith is an imaginative response to a difficult situation by the Scottish Government.

Tallink's MS Victoria ferry, at Leith Docks, is being used to house Ukrainian refugees (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Tallink's MS Victoria ferry, at Leith Docks, is being used to house Ukrainian refugees (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Safe and secure accommodation’s required, and this provides it, even if it can only be for a short period of time. Having crossed the Baltic on this or a sister ship, I know that the cabins are small, and space is limited. But needs must, although moving to a proper home has to be done as soon as possible.

But what it also shows, as a friend who’s a maritime expert was pointing out to me, is that there’s a market there for ships to lease.

As with trains and planes, boats are now often leased, rather than purchased. Indeed, we know that in Scotland although ferries are often built for CalMac, they have also been leased in emergencies.

There might not be a sea that’s got them berthed as planes once were, and maybe still are, parked in US deserts. But they’re out there and as the ferry in Leith shows can be acquired quickly, in weeks if not days.

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So, my friend mused, if it can be done to host Ukrainian refugees, why can’t it be done to support Scottish exports or inbound tourism? For sure, news outlets have been running stories on a ferry to Europe restarting next year.

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But firstly, that’s all talk and speculation. There’s no deal on the horizon and, without some modest Scottish Government funding, it’ll be as ephemeral as the announcement of an independence referendum.

Secondly, why wait? The need’s now. Summer’s past as this goes to print. But there are still visitors wanting to come, and trade that needs to get out. Strikes at Felixstowe have compounded what was already a huge concern for business. Time’s of the essence.

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Of course, the government would need to fund it, as they have the one that lies in Leith. But it would be offset at least by paying customers and plying trade. The ferry from Greenock to China shows what’s possible. CalMac or another operator could run it and crew it.

I think it’s good to have leased in the ferry for Ukrainian refugees but where’s ours for trade and tourism?

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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