THE new Rosyth to Dunkirk ferry route will be “transformational” for Scotland, according to the man working behind the scenes to make it happen.

Derek Sloan, CEO of Ptarmigan Shipping, told The Sunday National that the route could just be the start, as he floated the idea of additional freight routes from Scotland to northern Germany and Scandinavia in the future if the demand is there.

The National reported earlier this week that a deal to secure a Scotland to Europe ferry deal for both freight and passengers is nearing with an aim to reinstate the service in spring 2024.

Scots currently need to travel down to Newcastle if they want to take a ferry to mainland Europe after the freight service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge in Belgium stopped sailing five years ago. The last that carried passenger services was in 2010.

Then operator DFDS – a Danish international shipping company that is also involved in the new service – pulled the freight route after a fire made it “not economically viable".

“Unfinished business”

Sloan said that as soon as the Rosyth to Zeebrugge service came to an end in 2018, it felt like “unfinished business” for him.

The veteran ferryman was instrumental in the development of the route between Dover and Dunkirk during his time as managing director of Norfolkline as well as the so-called "Brexit buster" route from Ireland to Dunkirk, after Irish businesses found themselves desperate to find a way around the UK post-Brexit.

“It needed to be resurrected at some point,” he added.

Asked what made this time different, Sloan said that “a lot” has changed in the past couple of years.

READ MORE: Scotland to Europe ferry: A timeline of once popular service

“We wouldn't have gotten this far if it wasn’t financially viable,” Sloan said – adding: “But we believe there’s a significant demand in the passenger market.

“We can see them coming to Scotland via other English ports. A lot of Scottish people drive south to get to Europe who could get the ferry into Dunkirk instead, which is quite an attractive landing point as it covers a lot of countries that you’d want to go to.”

From a freight perspective, Sloan said it is “simply something Scotland needs”.

He said: “We can’t keep on pushing these trucks down the road and through ports down in England.

“There have been various strategies looking at how we keep Scottish exports and imports coming through Scottish ports. Well, you can only do that if you’ve got a route.”

Sloan added: “It will just improve the supply chain when it comes to competitiveness, transit times and cost and make it much more attractive to come directly to Scotland as opposed to coming into the English ports and driving up.

“Customers are also increasingly focused on reducing their carbon footprint.”

The start of multiple routes into Europe?

Rosyth was selected by the Scottish and UK governments in January this year as one of two sites in Scotland to become a green freeport – meaning it will be supported by up to £52 million in start-up funding and will benefit from tax reliefs and other incentives through a combination of devolved and reserved powers.

“The ferry is aligned to that because it gives a direct route for a lot of those exporters and importers from that facility and into the continent,” Sloan said, adding that the route also had the advantage of offering the possibility of transporting only freight and the construction of a new intermodal rail terminal in Dunkirk would open traffic into Italy, Switzerland and Spain.

There are hopes that this route is only the start of a number of future ferry routes linking Scotland to Europe.

Sloan said: “Out of Scotland, possibly the freight market could grow more into northern Germany and Scandinavia but I'm not too sure about the passenger market because Scotland's out-bound market is more focussed on warm countries like Spain or Portugal."

Of course, there are still obstacles to clear for the first route between Rosyth and Dunkirk, including high start-up costs which may require help from the Scottish Government.

There is also the need to navigate post-Brexit UK border regulations. But Sloan remained optimistic: “That's what we're working on at the moment. And to be perfectly honest, with good co-operation from the Border Force too. Because it’s important for Scotland.”