CRUISE line operators are being put off from visiting Liverpool because of the high port tariffs charged by Mersey Docks operator Peel, tourism officials warned last night.

Liverpool’s head of tourism, Keith Blundell, said the high rates were “prohibiting [the] growth” of Liverpool’s Cruise Liner Terminal.

That is despite positive feedback from captains and passengers who praised the convenience of arriving at the city centre berth and compared it to Venice, Sydney and St Petersburg.

Liverpool is also failing to secure an appropriate share of more than 100 ships deployed in the Irish Sea due to its lack of competitiveness, Mr Blundell has warned.

Mr Blundell made his remarks in a report to the city’s regeneration select committee, which is looking at the first period of operation of the new Cruise Line Terminal at a meeting tonight.

Last night Peel, the owner of Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, refused to say what tariffs were being charged and, despite the council’s attack on the rates, it would also not reveal the cost.

The charges are levied for pilotage, rope handlers, lease agreements, tugs, security staff and the council’s own berthing fees.

Regeneration select committee chairman, Liberal Democrat Cllr Eddie Clein, said Peel had been a “bit of a problem” since the inception of the Cruise Liner Terminal, and he wanted to get to the bottom of the issues at tonight’s meeting.

A spokesman for Peel said: “Peel is in constructive discussions with interested parties over the development of the cruise trade in Liverpool.

It comes as negotiations continue between Peel and the council over upgrading Liverpool’s Pier Head to become a base for cruise liners journeys.

Ships can only use the terminal as a port of call, and are instead forced to use Peel’s Langton Dock, within Bootle’s industrial dock complex. Peel has its own plans for a cruise liner terminal as part of its Liverpool Waters plan to regenerate north Liverpool.

Liverpool Council’s £20m cruise liner terminal was opened in the autumn of 2007, and last year 14 ships called there , bringing in 18,500 passengers with a benefit of £1.3m for the local economy. The city council said 16 ships have confirmed for 2009, and 14 for 2010.

“The cruise terminal has had a successful first year, although it continues to face financial and operational challenges as it establishes itself,” Mr Blundell’s report states.

“There has been significant interest in Liverpool as a cruise destination. However, cruise industry consultants have continually emphasised the need for reduced charges to grow the cruise business.

“There are over 100 cruise ships deployed in the Irish Sea, and Liverpool is not securing an appropriate proportion due to our lack of competitiveness caused by high statutory rather than operational costs.”

Last night, Cllr Clein said: “They [Peel] have been a bit of a problem ever since the start. The cup is only 60% full at the moment, but that is better than we would be without the cruise liner terminal. We need to pull out all the stops now.”

Labour deputy leader Cllr Paul Brant said: “Peel are major players in the city with the Liverpool Waters regeneration proposals on north Liverpool waterfront, and we need to work with them to maximise the benefit for Liverpool. It is no good alleging that the fees charged are excessive if the council can’t produce the figures to justify the allegation.