UNDER-fire harbour chiefs have declared that they now have 'no plans' to dock cruise ships at Greenock — after the Telegraph highlighted a wave of public health concerns.

Peel Ports had previously informed Inverclyde Council that up to 12 huge vessels could come here to disembark crew members for onward travel and repatriation to their homelands.

But the local authority and top health board officials opposed the proposal over fears that it would place an extra burden on vital services when the district is the worst hit in Scotland for coronavirus.

Now the harbour authority has said it has no intention 'currently' to bring any cruise ship to Greenock for lay-up purposes following the collapse of the holiday industry.

The decision comes after the Telegraph obtained a copy of a secret council report and published full details of Peel Ports' approach, and the local authority's alarm over it.

But council leader Stephen McCabe says that this does not completely allay concerns - and he has called for a 'grown-up discussion' as to Peel's position as both a private company and harbour authority.

One ship — the Azamara Pursuit — which was banned from docking in Chile in March due to what turned out to be false suspicions of an onboard coronavirus outbreak is currently making her way to the Clyde and will dock in Glasgow on June 1.

Peel Ports chief executive Mark Whitworth has pointedly stated that Inverclyde's opposition to cruisers coming to Greenock had 'not gone unnoticed'.

Council SNP group leader Chris McEleny has branded that a 'simply unacceptable veiled threat' against the district as a whole, adding: "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."

Council leader Stephen McCabe said: "Clearly their [Peel's] reply to the council is a wee bit ungracious.

"Given the uncertain times we are living in we can forgive ungraciousness especially when noses are clearly out of joint over this issue.

"However, there is a clear failure to grasp genuinely held concerns from elected representatives both in the council chamber and in the chamber of the parliament over the pressure on health services, especially at a time when we are suffering as a community and a country with so much loss.

"There can be no doubt that Inverclyde has been and will continue to be a welcoming place for cruise ship visitors coming to Scotland and nothing in this situation is likely to affect that reputation, or for that matter our reputation as a port of safe harbour for anyone in distress.

"We don't need to look back further than when one of Peel's customers' ships broke her moorings recently and the council and community without hesitation came together, to much acclaim by passengers and crew, to support them."

Councillor McCabe added: "Peel has confirmed that there are no current plans in place to anchor ships and that helps to reduce any concerns we had of the potential for unnecessary pressure on health services in the area.

"It does not remove those concerns entirely.

"It is clear that there is a gap exposed here over this situation and it may be that there is a need for a more defined national response.

"It could be that a grown up conversation needs to take place across the country about the role of port authority and whether in a modern Scotland it is appropriate that this sits with a commercial organisation.

"Our parliamentarians may wish to consider whether this situation has exposed a need for legislation on this issue."

David Huck, Peel Ports group managing director, said: "Due to the current suspension of the cruise industry, cruise lines require to moor vessels in ports worldwide.

"Like our counterparts in other countries, UK ports are already berthing cruise vessels on a temporary basis, including at Rosyth, Tilbury, Bristol and Southampton.

"We currently have no plans to moor cruise ships at Greenock, but are due to receive the first of three cruise vessels for temporary berths at King George V Docks at the beginning of next month.

"These are vessels which have skeleton crews of around 40 crew members each and have not had passengers on board for many weeks. The vessels involved have been deep-cleaned, are free from Covid and will be on the high seas for at least two weeks prior to arriving on the Clyde.

"There are literally hundreds of vessels arriving and departing from British ports daily, carrying vital goods and supplies, all subject to strict controls, statutory checks and regulations and these vessels are no different."