Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry to stop carrying passengers

THE operators of the Scotland-Belgium ferry link today announced that the service will become freight-only, spelling an end to passenger travel between the countries.

• The ferry has been a familiar sight in the Forth for several years

The service, which runs between Rosyth in Fife and Zeebrugge, Belgium, has taken tourists across the North Sea since 2002, and is the only direct ferry route between Scotland and continental Europe.

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Superfast operated the route until 2008, when the company decided to axe the service due to reduced demand.

The Scottish Government were keen to encourage a new company to step in, and in May last year Norfolkline began a thrice-weekly overnight service.

But today DFDS, Norfolkline's parent company, announced that the ferry link would stop carrying passengers from December:

"DFDS Seaways is to increase sailings from each port from three departures a week to four and will now operate two ships on the route, allowing freight capacity on the service to be dramatically improved.

"However, the route will no longer operate as a combined passenger and freight service."

The company said that the route had failed to meet its financial targets and that, despite good summer bookings, the passenger numbers were not sufficient to continue the service.

Andreas Teschl, Vice President of the DFDS Group, said: "We are aware that the ferry service has provided an important link between Scotland and the continent so it is a matter of deep regret that we have had to take the decision to no longer operate passenger services on the Rosyth to Zeebrugge route in the future.

"We know this decision will be disappointing to many people and we would like to thank all those who have supported us, particularly the Scottish Government, the travel and transport industry, as well as those passengers who have used the service and will continue to use the service until the end of the year.

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"We can guarantee that the service will continue to provide a passenger service up to and including December 15 at least.

"However, we do believe the route has a future as a freight-only service and we not only want to keep the route alive but we want to enhance the service we offer to the freight industry.

Bookings can still be made for travel up to 15 December 2010, but any passengers who have made bookings after that date will be refunded.

DFDS Seaways is also discussing future employment options with the small number of staff who will be affected by the change of route operation.

Reacting to the announcement, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said: "We welcome the announcement by the company of an enhanced freight service from next year on the Rosyth-Zebrugge ferry route.

"However, it is extremely disappointing news that the company has decided to discontinue the passenger element of the service.

"Significant efforts to help promote the service had recently started to make progress in attracting increased passenger numbers.

"Unfortunately the company has reached a commercial decision that this progress was not sufficient to continue the route in its current form.

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"We very much regret the decision by DFDS, although this is a commercial matter for them.

"We will though continue to work with the company who recognise the importance of ensuring that there is no break in freight services as the changes take place, and will be urging them to keep the decision to discontinue passenger services under review."

Scottish Labour called on the Government to establish a route-development body to stop such routes failing in future.

Shadow Minister for Transport Charlie Gordon MSP said: "This is a major setback for Scots as the service provided an alternative to aviation for those travelling between Scotland and the continent.

"The SNP Government must sit down with the company to look at options to keep this route open."