CITY leaders have hit back at claims that the cruise industry needs to be regulated to reduce the "serious risk" it poses to human health.

A new report claims cruise ships are a likely source of risk to passengers, staff and people who live near ports or work in shipyards.

It says potential hazards include the spread of infectious diseases such as Covid-19.

The report also cites the impact of noise and air pollution on health as well as difficult working conditions for boat and shipyard staff.

Another section of the document claims cruising is a major source of environmental pollution, with air, water and wildlife all affected.

But some of Southampton's top politicians have defended the cruise industry.

They highlighted recent improvements, including the provision of ship-to-shore power at the new Horizon terminal. The system enables vessels to "hook up" to electricity at ports, which means their engines can be switched off between voyages.

Royston Smith, Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, said: "Cruise brings joy to millions in this country and around the world.

"The industry’s Covid and health protocols to protect passengers and crew are second to none. New ships are cleaner and greener than ever before.

"Improvements can always be made and they must be made, but I’m afraid it feels as though some people would have us living back in caves if they had their way.”

Southampton has grown into Europe's busiest cruise port, with millions of passengers starting and finishing their journey in the city every year.

The arrival of each ship pumps an estimated £2.7m into the local economy, helping the industry to support 14,000 jobs in the Solent area.

Cllr Satvir Kaur is leader of the Labour opposition group on the city council.

She said: "Southampton has been an active port city for centuries and we heavily rely on it for our local economy. It's important that industries like this aren’t lost but instead supported and encouraged to become greener."

Cllr Kaur said Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead and the previous Labour administration that worked tirelessly to ensure the port provided ship-to-shore power.

Cllr Lisa Mitchell is the council's shadow cabinet member for environment and housing.

She said: "In Southampton we are fortunate that local Labour leaders and ABP took the initiative to move towards a more sustainable cruise industry by securing shore power at the new terminal.

"However, more needs to be done both locally and nationally.

"I would like to see the government mandate shore power at every port and support the development of other green technology in the cruise industry.”

The new report is based on research led by the University of Exeter.

Professor Lora Fleming said: "Cruise tourism was rapidly expanding pre-Covid-19 and our research shows it causes major impacts on the environment and on human health and wellbeing.

“We need much better monitoring to generate more robust data for the true picture of these impacts.

“Without new and strictly enforced national and international standardised rules, the cruise industry is likely to continue causing these serious health and environmental hazards.”

Dr Josep Lloret, of the University of Girona, added "Our paper highlights that cruising is a prime example of how the fates of our health and our environments are intertwined.

“Up until now, most studies have looked at aspects of this in isolation.

“Our review is the most comprehensive to date to combine these research fields and take a holistic view of how cruising damages our environments and our health. We now need global legislation to minimise damage on both our oceans and our health.”

ABP declined to comment on the report, referring enquiries to the Cruise Lines Industry Association.