FEARS have been raised that cruise ships could be being laid up off Hunterston during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has recently been reported that Inverclyde's Ocean Terminal could be used to berth vessels and bring thousands of crew members ashore amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Their councillors voted unanimously to reject the proposal by Peel Ports on public health grounds - but all officials can do is write a letter to 'urge reconsideration' of the matter.

Only the Scottish Government - currently fighting to minimise the impact of COVID-19 across the country - has the power to suspend port activities.

However, there is now a prospect of the giant vessels coming to local waters.

In an email sent to Fairlie Community Council, North Ayrshire Council head of democratic services Andrew Fraser admitted that ships could be positioned near Hunterston.

It said: "We are aware of this from contact with Inverclyde Council. Our understanding is that the proposal was to moor cruise ships off-shore, mainly in Loch Striven but possibly a couple near Hunterston. These would be serviced from Greenock, in other words they would never land in North Ayrshire, even by tender.

"I understand the First Minister was questioned about this in Parliament. She was asked about overloading the local NHS through dealing with outbreaks on cruise ships, and while sympathetic balanced this by pointing out that cruise ships have to go somewhere and they and their crews cannot become international pariahs.

"We are continuing to watch developments closely and are in liaison with our counterparts in Inverclyde."

Fairlie community councillor David Telford told the News he feared that lives could be put at risk.

He said: “Cruise ships should obviously be laid-up at their home port or where they were built and launched.

"For years we have been told that Hunterston is not a suitable place for tourism or the cruise ship industry. Now we are suddenly told we have to be cannon fodder for the convenience and profit of big business.

"It is true to say that a local authority would have no legal authority to prevent this - but Inverclyde are at least lodging protests.

"The tone of the council's correspondence is that they will simply toe the Scottish Government’s line. They can take these boats elsewhere."

Cllr. Alan Hill told the News that he was baffled by the suggestion.

He said: "I understand that they have to go somewhere - but why Hunterston? It seems an odd place to be berthing boats.

"It would have to be managed in such away to ensure that there isn't any great risk to health. This would be a bizarre move."

Councillor Ian Murdoch said: "I am very apprehensive about the possibility.

"I understand the humanitarian situation and the crew have been kept in quarantine for a long time. I have concerns for their physical and mental health and I have every sympathy for that, but why are they not proposing to take them to their place of registration?"

A spokesman for North Ayrshire Council said: “We have not received any contact from Peel Ports regarding the possibility of mooring cruise ships near Hunterston.”

A spokesperson for Peel Ports said “Due to the travel disruption associated with COVID-19, cruise companies have enquired about safe and temporary anchorages for vessels not in operation. These vessels have minimal crew and no passengers on board. We would never make agreements that jeopardise the health and safety of staff, residents or local communities and remain fully complaint with guidance issued by health and maritime authorities at all times.”