Promising Scotland to EU ferry opportunity could be sunk without government support

By: NI Ferry Team
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OPTIMA SEAWAYS. Image: Harvey Finney.
OPTIMA SEAWAYS. Image: Harvey Finney.

It has emerged that a serious attempt to secure a new Scotland to EU ferry link could fall at the final hurdle without appropriate government will.

In June 2022 it was revealed that Danish-owned ferry operator DFDS had signed an agreement with Ptarmigan Shipping to work on re-storing a Rosyth – Zeebrugge route.  This became known as ‘Project Brave’.

Bringing back the Rosyth to Zeebrugge route would restore the previous service, offered by Superfast Ferries, then Norfolkline and finally DFDS from 2002 and 2018. 

By October 2023, the proposed European port had changed to Dunkirk.  This was due to the project team being unable to secure a berth at the busy port of Zeebrugge.  Additionally, DFDS already has a hub at Dunkirk with services to both Dover and the so-called Brexit-busting Rosslare route offering operational economies of scale and greater flexibility to freight customers.

In recent months summit meetings have been held at both Dunkirk and Rosyth.  In attendance were the main stakeholders such as DFDS, Ptarmigan Shipping, Port of Rosyth, Port of Dunkerque and the MP for Fife Douglas Chapman.  The events were also attended by government departments, local councils and tourist organisations, all fully supporting the new route.

The current intention is to launch a RoPax ferry route between Rosyth and Dunkirk in May 2024.  The service would be operated by one vessel offering three return sailings per week on a 20-hour crossing.  It is envisaged that with market development, a two-vessel operation with six return sailings per week could be financially viable by 2030.

With partner in the project, DFDS, being one of Europe’s biggest ferry operators, access to appropriate tonnage is not seen as an issue.  Just this week, DFDS completed the takeover of three routes across the Strait of Gibraltar with the completion of the takeover of FRS Iberia/Maroc.

DFDS' OPTIMA SEAWAYS seen laid up at the Damen facility at Dunkerque. Image: Harvey Finney
DFDS has one of the largest ferry fleets in Europe offering many vessel possibilities for a Scotland to EU ferry service. Image: Harvey Finney

Support vital

Whilst a contender to become SNP Leader and Scotland’s First Minister, the now First Minister Humza Yousaf said he was open to intervening directly in securing a Scotland to EU ferry link. However, it appears to be a variety of missing government support measures that may stop the route happening.

Currently there is an unspecified Border Force/Customs issue that is outstanding.  Whilst progress is said to have been made and a solution put forward, it appears that things are moving slowly between the Port of Rosyth and UK Border Force.  Unless there is a resolution soon, this could delay or stop the route from happening.  

A second major issue is around government financial support.  Inevitably, there are significant start-up costs to launch the route.   It was agreed at the summit meetings that a paper of submission would be distributed to various offices/departments within the Scottish and UK Governments regarding the route. This paper outlined the contribution/risks of the main stakeholders and asked for a committed package of funding support measures to assist with these costs. Without this funding being made available, to share the risk, the stakeholders said it was unlikely the route could open. 

With the required government support, the proposed Rosyth – Dunkirk is expected to be a commercial and sustainable success in the medium term. Kasper Moos, Vice President, Head of Business Unit Group Passenger at DFDS said;

“We have done a lot of analysis to determine whether a ferry route providing Freight and Passenger services between Scotland and Continental Europe can have a sustainable future, and the result of that analysis is clear.  For this to happen there remain some obstacles to be overcome with port infrastructure, border force and, not least, start-up funding. If these obstacles can be overcome a direct Ferry link between Scotland and Continental Europe is entirely possible”

The paper distributed to government departments also describes the economic benefits to exporters, importers, employment and tourism. Removing trucks from road to sea will also lead to a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of Scotland to EU freight.

Furthering the green credentials of the service, the direct ferry route will compliment and be aligned with the recent award of Rosyth’s Green Freeport status, offering a direct link from Scotland to Europe.   Meanwhile, the Port of Dunkerque will build a new Intermodal Terminal for freight trailers to be carried throughout Europe, further enhancing net zero targets.

Image of the Port of Rosyth showing a DFDS vessel at the RoRo linkspan. Image: Forth Ports.
Image of the Port of Rosyth showing a DFDS vessel at the RoRo linkspan. Image: Forth Ports.

Belief in the project

DFDS’ partner Derek Sloan, Managing Director, Ptarmigan Shipping described the route as “unfinished business” and an opportunity that must be taken now, adding;

“The economic, environmental and connectivity benefits of the route will be transformational for Scotland.”

Douglas Chapman, the SNP MP for Fife, which includes the Port of Rosyth, has been a key-player in supporting the re-establishment of a Scotland to EU ferry service. He commented on the potential;

“This route will meet the objectives of the Scottish and UK Governments in generating economic growth, reducing costs to import and export goods to and from Europe and reducing the carbon footprint. Economic benefit can arise to both large and small businesses alike.”

A major user of the previous Rosyth – Zeebrugge ferry link, Dyce Carriers, has also spoken in favour of the proposed new service to Dunkirk and the potential for reducing roadmiles.  Richard Workman, Business Development Manager of Dyce Carriers said;

“We welcome a ferry link between Europe and Scotland. Currently Scotland must be serviced daily from Southern ports which creates a huge carbon footprint. Most of our trucks are running 400 miles round trip to drop trailers off and collect loaded trailers bound for central Scotland. Having a service into Rosyth would reduce the carbon footprint significantly and give our customers a vital link into Scotland.”

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