A HARBOUR chief intent on docking cruise ships at Greenock and bringing thousands of people ashore amid the coronavirus emergency has issued a 'veiled threat' to Inverclyde Council.

Mark Whitworth, chief executive of Peel Ports, told the local authority in a letter that its refusal to support his plan to bring up to 12 ships here and disembark crew members for onward repatriation 'has not gone unnoticed'.

The comment has angered senior councillors who, along with NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde have lined up to unanimously oppose the Peel proposal on public health grounds.

Incensed SNP group leader Chris McEleny yesterday hit out strongly against Mr Whitworth's stance.

Cllr McEleny said: "The response from Peel Ports is a veiled threat that if the council doesn't simply accept the public health threat we are presented with then we will be deprived of future cruise ship business.

"This isn't a threat on the council by Peel, but a threat to the people of Inverclyde.

"It is simply unacceptable and I will now be pursuing taking back control of our waterfront to put it back under public control for the people of Inverclyde — where it belongs.

"The situation of Peel being both harbour master and commercial client is quite clearly a conflict of interest that will always put profit at the forefront of every decision."

In his sternly-worded letter to council chief executive Aubrey Fawcett, Mr Whitworth wrote: "It has not gone unnoticed within the cruise industry that Inverclyde have been unwilling to support the sector when it needed practical help and at a time when other ports in Scotland and around the wider UK and Ireland coastline have been more accommodating."

Mr Whitworth also stated that there is a 'strict, well established protocol' in place for vessels to 'make a Maritime Declaration of Health', adding that there are a 'range of measures' to maintain the health and safety of crew and shoreside personnel.

The Peel Ports chief also stated: "Whilst at this current time, there are no confirmed vessels due to anchorage at Inverclyde, we will continue to communicate with Port Health and advise accordingly of any further requests or developments."

Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe also took issue with Mr Whitworth's comments.

Councillor McCabe said: "I am pleased Peel have advised there are no confirmed vessels due for anchorage at Greenock but disappointed Mr Whitworth has not ruled out bringing vessels to Inverclyde during the current health emergency.

"I am also disappointed by the [reference to] implied lack of support from the council for the cruise industry, given that we have secured millions of pounds of funding to provide a new berthing facility and terminal, which will allow Peel to expand its business when the industry is able to safely resume operations."

Mr McCabe added: "The simple truth is that other ports in the UK and Ireland have not been impacted by COVID-19 in the same way Inverclyde has."

An official council report states that ships would have 150 permanent crew onboard but would each arrive with up to 600 personnel.

The report adds: "In this instance we understand that vessels are laying up at their existing location and are not 'at sea' with any necessity or immediate need of port facilities.

"Rather the choice of lay over location is a matter of commercial advantage."