Scotland-Europe ferry link to run aground this weekend

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THE only sea link between the Scottish mainland and Europe will end on Saturday without a replacement operator in sight.

Greek firm Superfast is stopping its ferry service between Rosyth and the Belgian port of Zeebrugge after claiming it was not making enough money from the route.

Forth Ports is in talks with a number of operators with a view to taking over the seven-year-old route but nothing has come to fruition so far.

One of the ferry firms in talks with Forth Ports today revealed it had concerns over the service's profitability.

The Netherlands-based operator Norfolkline also said it is weeks away from deciding whether or not it will pursue the Rosyth link.

Meanwhile, there has been further bad news for Rosyth as plans for a freight link between Norway, Zeebrugge and the West Fife port have suffered a setback after an application for EU funding for the scheme was put back a year.

The weekly Motorway of the Sea service was meant to connect Rosyth with Kristiansund in Norway, via Zeebrugge, with ferry operator John White also interested in adding passenger services to the link.

Forth Ports today said it remained hopeful of finding a replacement operator for the Rosyth to Zeebrugge link, adding that talks were continuing with a number of operators.

However, transport experts warned that any replacement service would face an uphill struggle as hauliers will have made alternative arrangements with English ports.

Kell Robdrup, managing director of Norfolkline, said: "We are looking at the possibility of a Zeebrugge to Rosyth service, but we have still to take a decision.

"We are always looking for new opportunities, but this is not an obvious choice for us."

Mr Robdrup conceded that his firm had operational and profitability concerns about the route.

The Superfast service started in 2001 and was heralded as a great boost for Scotland's tourism and freight industries. A 20 million terminal was built in Rosyth, using around 12m of public money.

Alastair Short, policy manager with Sestran, said: "The loss of the Superfast link is a big blow, and we are hopeful that a replacement can be found in the shortest time possible.

"The big problem is that a lot of the freight operators will have had to make alternative arrangements and once they are locked into agreements on other ferry routes it will be difficult to get them back."

A spokesman for Forth Ports said: "The Rosyth ferry service has been very successful, having carried 918,448 passengers and 190,864 freight units since it was established in 2002.

"Our priority is to ensure that Scotland does not lose this crucial service and talks are ongoing with a number of operators and we remain hopeful of finding a replacement service.

"Once an operator has been identified we will work closely with them to ensure there is minimal break in service when the existing Superfast ferry stops on September 13."