PASSENGERS set to embark on a UK-only cruise from Greenock today have been 'barred' from boarding the ship by the Scottish Government.

The MSC Virtuosa was due to call at Ocean Terminal this morning for 12 hours as part of a seven-day cruise, but in a u-turn decision by the Scottish Government, the port call was cancelled.

The Scottish Passengers Agents Association (SPAA) said customers had been told by MSC Cruises the decision was 'outwith their control'.

The cruise operator said: "Due to the latest Scottish Government Covid restrictions and regulations, we are sorry to inform you that the port call of Greenock has been cancelled.

"No guests are allowed to embark or disembark.

"This decision has been made by the Scottish Government and is out of our control."

The 330m-long Virtuosa would have been the largest cruise ship to ever visit the town.

The giant vessel is scheduled to berth here 10 more times over the summer but visits scheduled for next Wednesday and on June 23 have been cancelled too.

Around a third of the hundreds of passengers aboard this week’s cruise had been expected to go ashore for excursions from Greenock.

Passengers expected to join the cruise today took to social media to share their anger at the last-minute decision while SPAA president Joanne Dooey also slammed the government's last minute decision.

She said: "We’re now facing the situation where Scottish passengers who joined the cruise in Liverpool [Tuesday] are barred from setting foot in their own country.

"Inverclyde is currently in level one.

"The Scottish Government has effectively closed the country’s borders to anything other than road travel.

"The irony is that any of these passengers can get in a car and drive from Southampton to Inverclyde with no testing, border control or vaccinations."

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, said: “Cruises from Greenock have been on sale for months, yet despite urgent calls from the industry, the Scottish Government has provided less than 36 hours’ notice that these sailings cannot go ahead."

The Telegraph contacted the government and asked them to respond.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We fully understand the impact of the current restrictions on domestic cruises.   

“We explained our concerns about the transmission risks posed by cruise vessels in an update to industry on May 24 and confirmed that we would clarify the position in June.   

“Following extensive engagement with stakeholders, we have now confirmed that domestic cruises can restart when all of Scotland reaches level one and we have made industry, including the operator, aware of this.  

“This decision has been informed by the combination of risks that exists between both cruises and the wider travel context, including the current trajectory of Covid infections and the unknowns around the new Delta variant, in addition to the potential for high risk of uncontained rapid transmission on the cruise.  

“Affected passengers should contact the operator for further information regarding their trip.”