Sunderland welcomed its first-passenger-carrying ship in more than 15 years today.
The MS Gann brought more than 140 tourists from Stavanger in Norway into the city when it docked this morning.
The 6,257 gross tonne cruise ship visited Port of Sunderland in April 2014 for a training exercise, after an unscheduled diversion meant it could not go to its intended stop-off.
But it returned this weekend for a planned visit, only the fifth passenger-carrying cruise ship to come into the port with tourists on board in the last 40 years and the first this century.
Tour operator Northern Secrets is already in discussions about further visits.
Matthew Hunt, director at Port of Sunderland, said: “It’s been fantastic to welcome MS Gann today, having already done so last year when the ship came to Port of Sunderland on a training exercise.
“Today’s visit, with passengers from Norway, has been really exciting for us, and it went very well. We are already in really positive discussions about more cruise ships visiting the port, so we expect that the MS Gann is only the beginning for us. It is adding an new dimension to the port’s offer.”
Captain Svein Ivar Olaussen, who steered the ship into the waters of the Wear, said: “I was aboard the MS Gann during last year’s visit to the port, and both as a captain of a training ship then, and - as the captain of a cruise ship – today, the welcome given to us by the Port of Sunderland has been marvellous.”
Robin and Norah Jackson were on site at the port awaiting the arrival of the MS Gann, having travelled from Brampton in Cumbria to Port of Sunderland to greet their Norwegian friends Per and Gunvor Bygnes.
The two first couples met in 1972, when Mr Bygnes visited a school where Mrs Jackson was a teacher.
Mrs Jackson said: “We have been friends for many years, so it is lovely to meet them here for the day.
“We are hoping to go for lunch in Sunderland, somewhere quiet so we can have a chat.”
Mr Bygnes said: “I am charmed by the North of England, so it is lovely to be here today.
“We have known Norah and Robin for over 40 years. An everlasting friendship.
It’s very nice to be here and see our friends.”
Mayor Coun Barry Curran will be greeting passengers as they arrive: “This is a real boost for Sunderland,” he said.
“The city has a fantastic port, with a team who really cannot do enough to welcome people to the city, and we also have a great deal to offer as a visitor destination.
“To have a cruise ship coming into the port is the beginning of a new era for us, and of course, the port’s closeness to the city centre means it couldn’t be easier to transport people from the port to enjoy all of the great shops, bars, restaurants and attractions we have in close proximity.
Gary Hutchinson, commercial director of Sunderland Associated Football Club and Chairman of the Sunderland Business Group, said the news of MS Gann sailing into Sunderland was an encouraging sign for the city’s tourism economy.
He said: “We are thrilled that Sunderland has attracted international visitors coming into Port of Sunderland. This is the first time in half a century that Sunderland’s name has appeared on the list of an organised international tourist trip, so it is a fantastic step forward for the city, and hopefully a sign of more to come.
“Sunderland has a lot going for it. We have fantastic natural assets – from our stunning coastline to plenty of green parks that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. We have an enviable events programme that maximises these assets, and visitor attractions, shops, bars and restaurants that provide added entertainment for people coming into the city. All in all, Sunderland is developing strong foundations as a place for people looking for a day out with a difference.
“We hope that MS Gann’s visit will boost the city’s growing reputation as a fantastic place to visit. With hotels springing up across Sunderland – including our own complex, which is due to complete next spring – and new, attractive additions to the city, like Keel Square, we expect to see the visitor economy playing a greater role in the city’s success far into the future.”