A DIRECT ferry link between Scotland and mainland Europe is set to reopen early next year.

The boat is expected to go from Rosyth, south of Dunfermline on the Firth of Forth, to Zeebrugge, on the coast of Belgium north of Bruges, in 2023.

The route was last open to freight in 2018. At the time it was operated by DFDS, but a fire on board the Finlandia Seaways ship hastened the end as the company could not find a replacement and “lost all hope” of turning around losses.

The ferry last carried passenger services in 2010, eight years after it first began sailing.

It was Scotland's only direct sea link to Europe – and in the wake of Brexit the interest in re-opening it has been building.

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At first, the ferries will carry freight, but there is an eye on opening the sailings to the public as well soon after, with concerns that not carrying passengers for 2023's summer tourism season would be a missed opportunity.

A statement of intent released by DFDS and Ptarmigan Shipping reads: “Ptarmigan Shipping and DFDS have signed an agreement with the intention to further investigate the possibility for a new ferry route between Rosyth and Zeebrugge with a target date being early 2023 for freight.

“This is all subject to the support we can get from the market and stakeholders, which will be our focus during the next few months. A further study is being carried out regarding the passenger business.”

Stakeholders are hoping that the passenger business would be popular with Scots looking to reduce the number of flights they are taking in order to address climate change.

Further, it would also open up an avenue for Scotland’s motorbiking and campervanning communities to explore the European continent with their vehicles.

SNP MP Douglas Chapman, who has been involved with the talks aiming at getting the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry back online, said that there were many exporters keen to make use of a more direct route to the European market.

DFDS operated the freight service between Rosyth in Scotland and Zeebrugge in Belgium until it was cancelled in 2018

Chapman (above), the local MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, said: “This announcement is the culmination of months and months of work to get us to this stage.

"I am hugely excited by this announcement of further investigating the possibility to start a direct freight service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge in 2023, and that this also includes investigating the possibility for a regular passenger service.

“Connections have been made with VisitScotland and VisitFlanders along with a commitment to explore a full range of tourism and passenger opportunities.

“Following Brexit we have identified many exporters who are keen to use a more direct route into key EU markets and every avenue is being explored to boost trade using this new, cost-effective ferry service.

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“The signing of this agreement is a great step forward. We've found that the project has a high amount of public and commercial goodwill and the hard work will continue in both Scotland and in Flanders to make sure the service is a huge and sustainable success.”

Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell also welcomed the "exciting" news. His party called for ferry links with Europe to be renewed in the wake of Brexit ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election.

Ruskell said: “Reinstating the Rosyth – Zeebrugge ferry would connect Scotland back to the heart of Europe once again.

"It’s exciting that we are moving closer to this route being reinstated, it would make a big contribution to delivering economic and environmental benefits.”