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Security tightened as summer cruise ships take terrorism threat on board.

Byline: Rhodri Clark

TWO ships which carry thousands of day trippers every year from Welsh piers and docks have been modified in case terrorists try to attack them.

Balmoral and Waverley begin their season of summer cruises this month, offering trips from Penarth, Newport and Swansea to Ilfracombe, Minehead and Lundy Island.

The ships date from the 1940s and the cruising tradition from Victorian days, but they have not been able to escape a reality of the 21st century - the threat of terrorism.

Tightened regulations for shipping require the bridge - from where the captain controls the vessel - to be sealed from public access. This will make no difference to passengers, who were never allowed on the bridge.

However, the regulations could result in the famous steam engines inside Waverley being blocked from public view.

The paddle steamer's operator, Waverley Excursions, pledged to ensure permanent staffing of the engine room when the ship is in use, and passengers will normally be able to watch the machinery.

But if Britain is put on increased security alert, a barrier will be placed around the engines.

Fiona Nicolson, of Waverley Excursions, said the ships had been inspected by the Transport Security and Contingencies Directorate.

"We will comply with the regulations as they apply to our ships," she said. "Passengers will be able to see the steam engines working if they go on Waverley."

Waverley was saved from the scrap yard by enthusiasts in the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, to become the world's last sea-going paddle steamer.

PSPS chairman Myra Allen said: "The threat of terrorism is not something normally associated with paddle steamers and coastal cruising, but unfortunately in recent years it has invaded our lives in many ways.

"It is now a requirement that our sea-going ships have to be assessed for their security risks and appropriate measures taken."

She hoped the engine room's constant staffing would largely remove the need for an obtrusive barrier between the public and Waverley's engines.

"I hope the barrier arrangement on Balmoral's bridge deck does not ruin her appearance and interfere with the excellent visibility that the crew and passengers have had to date."

Alan Hobson, chairman of the PSPS's Bristol Channel branch, said the alterations would make no difference to the public.

"Only if the very severe security warning came from the Government would it have any difference," said Mr Hobson. "We have to comply with the rules of the game. It's part of the world we live in."

Security rules have applied to Bristol Channel steamers in the past.

In September 1918, as World War I began, the steamer Glen Usk made its maiden voyages from Newport.

"The advertisements said aliens could not be carried under any circumstances. You could just see the aliens escaping from Weston to Newport," said Mr Sylvester, former managing director of the Waverley organisation.

"I don't think Waverley and Balmoral are targets for terrorists.

They're not going to take Waverley to block the port of Rotterdam."

But he said the authorities had been sensitive and fair in the way the rules were applied to the ships.

One of the highlights of this year's Welsh cruising programme is a trip from Menai Bridge to Liverpool on October 3 for a last look at the renowned cruise liner QE2, soon to be decommissioned.

On Sunday, June 8, Waverley will sail from Penarth to Lundy for passengers to attend a special service in the island's church.

The ships will also sail under the Newport Transporter Bridge and the Severn motorway bridges during the next few months.

On June 14 Balmoral will cruise around the Pembrokeshire islands, starting and finishing at Milford Haven. On June 15 it will offer a return day trip from Swansea to Padstow, Cornwall.

The cruising tradition

Steamers started crossing the Bristol Channel in the early Victorian era, and the first pleasure cruiser arrived in 1887.

Steamers also carried tourists to North Wales, and on day trips from local piers.

The advent of mass motoring and the Severn Bridge badly damaged the steamer trade from South Wales to resorts on the English coast, especially Weston-super-Mare. When sailings could no longer make a profit, enthusiasts set up a not-for-profit organisation to continue the tradition.

Waverley was built in 1946 for regular services on the Clyde. After being replaced by newer ships, Waverley was rescued by enthusiasts in 1974 and ventured out of Scotland for the first time for a cruise from Llandudno in 1977.

Balmoral is a diesel-powered ship built in 1949 for Isle of Wight services and sold to the company that provided Bristol Channel cruises in 1969. After two years as a floating restaurant in Scotland, Balmoral returned to the Bristol Channel in 1986.

Last year, Waverley and Balmoral carried 55,000 passengers in the Bristol Channel, despite the unusually wet summer.

CAPTION(S):

SHIP AHOY Paddle steamer Balmoral cast off from Penarth on a cloudy day in October in 1979
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 3, 2008
Words:822
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