Plans for a new ferry service to the Netherlands from the Firth of Forth are “quite far along”, according to the head of the company proposing the new route.
David Kellas, director at TEC Offshore who hope to setup a passenger and freight service between Rosyth and Eemshaven, near Groningen, said he believes the demand for the service does exist, despite previous failures.
It comes only a year after the DFDS-run freight route from Scotland to Zeebrugge was finally terminated.
Mr Kellas said that there are still “major pieces of the jigsaw” still to conclude before the service is launched.
The Scotsman understands that TEC Offshore is in discussions with the Scottish Government over helping to secure a £35-40 million loan for the ferries that could be used by the company on the route, with the scheme described by one well-placed source as not “feeling too realistic”.
This measure is necessary due to TEC Offshore having no assets with which to secure the loan itself.
Mr Kellas said contracts have been signed for the ships, but did not say which company would supply them.
He would also not be drawn on the nature of the discussions between his company and the Scottish Government.
Mr Kellas said: “The route we are looking at is over to Rosyth from Eemshaven and it is approximately the same distance as the route to Zeebrugge was.
“Exact funding is not from the Scottish Government. It would be nice if they give us a wedge of cash, but that is not the direction per say.
“If you didn’t have the funding you couldn’t do the project.”
The ferry service will include one ship sailing in either direction each day, with the sailing time likely to be around 20 to 22 hours dependent on the weather.
Mr Kellas also said that the business plan for the route included a pricing structure, but said it would be “extremely competitive”.
In response to questions about potential passenger demand, Mr Kellas said demand would need to be built up again but all the signs are positive.
He said: “I would suggest that the passenger demand will need to be built up again, but I can tell you right now that from all the messages that we have received even just today from private individuals in Holland, which are significant in number, they have indicated that this is an absolute dream.
“From what we see the demand will be there and we have to have consistency in our service still and that makes a difference with the public and freight services.”
Work is still required at both Rosyth and Eemshaven before passenger ferries can operate, admitted Mr Kellas.
However, he said it would only be a “set-up procedure”.
He added: “There is work to do at both Rosyth and Eemshaven with regards to passenger access etc. All the items that have to be in place to make the service operational.
“Even with Rosyth, it had the service running before but when you don’t run a service for a period or time some items have to be put back in place but it is just set-up procedure.”
A spokesman from Forth Ports, which own the Port of Rosyth, said: “We continue to explore options for the Rosyth ferry. We remain receptive to approaches from potential operators.”
Mr Kellas said Brexit had not been part of the discussion for his company, saying the route is something Scotland needs and an addition that would allow tourism to spread further north of Edinburgh.
He said: “We would have been starting this service whether Brexit was occuring or not.
“You can cut out that extra three hours and it makes a significant difference, but for the financial side for businesses and for tourists it makes absolute sense for not having to drive large vehicles through Europe to get to the same place.”
The Scottish Government has been unable to agree a way forward with the company and said: “We are supportive of new direct ferry services linking Scotland to Europe, but they need to be delivered on a commercial basis.”
TEC has also been offered information and assistance on potential funding mechanisms by the Scottish Government which is happy to continue to engage with TEC Offshore and revisit its business plan in the future.
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “We would welcome a well-managed ferry route from the Firth of Forth to the Low Countries, which could positively impact on the Capital and the wider city region."