HUNDREDS of cruise line passengers have enjoyed a day of sightseeing, shopping and hospitality in Lochaber after a successful maiden call to Fort William by Mv Ocean Countess.
The 537ft, 17,593 gross tonne liner anchored in upper Loch Linnhe at about 8am and nearly all of its 610 passengers disembarked via tenders to the "town pier" where they were greeted by a piper. It made for an impressive loch view as Ocean Countess lay anchored with the paddle steamer Waverley docked at the pier prior to her departure to Iona.
On a day of glorious sunshine, coach excursions were on offer but the majority of Ocean Countess passengers, all UK citizens, opted to stay on foot and travel the short distance to Fort William High Street and explore the town centre’s shops, cafes and attractions. Dozens of the visitors chose to take a trip to Mallaig and back on the popular Jacobite Steam Train service.
Ocean Countess is operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) and left Liverpool last Tuesday on an eight-night "Diamond Jubilee Highland Experience" Cruise.
The Fort William call comes just days after the town suffered a blow when the scheduled maiden visit by the larger liner Marco Polo, also operated by CMV, was cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice after the ship’s master decided against taking the vessel through the tricky Corran Narrows on safety grounds.
That no show had left local businesses counting the cost but Monday’s arrival of Ocean Countess led to brisk trade for many shops and eateries in the town centre.
To mark Monday’s occasion, Provost of Lochaber Allan Henderson presented the liner’s master, Captain Dimitris Ntaoutis, with a commemorative plaque on the bridge of the vessel which has a passenger capacity of 800 and a total crew of 350.
Mr Ntaoutis said he was "very pleased" to be calling at Fort William for the first time.
Bob McGowan, passenger services director, told Lochaber News: "The welcome we’ve received here at Fort William has been brilliant. Scottish hospitality is wonderful and a lot of ports go that extra mile to welcome the liners and passengers and Fort William has certainly done that.
"The scenery is amazing and just about every passenger has gone off the ship to explore the town and surrounding area."
Mr McGowan confirmed Ocean Countess is scheduled to return to Fort William in April 2013.