Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Is the future of the Scotland to Belgium ferry link assured?

Superfast Ferries have operated a very welcome ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge for several years now. When the service first began there was financial assistance from the Scottish Executive which lasted for a number of year, three I think, and during this time the service operated six days a week, using two vessels to maintain the service. I made a round-trip on the service during this time and have to say it was the nicest ferry I have ever used; the cabins were immaculate and the food, although pricey, was excellent in both restaurants. Many of my friends and family members have used the service, too, and all were very pleased to avoid a long car drive down to England.

Soon after the end of the subsidised period Superfast announced it was cutting the service to three time a week, retaining only one vessel on the link. Now I learn, from a Press Release dated 8th August on the Superfast website, that the vessel used to operate the service, Superfast X, is being sold in early January 2007 and that "Attica Group intends to replace Superfast X on the Rosyth-Zeebrugge service", although no information is as yet provided when this will happen, whether it is to be simultaneous with the sale of Superfast X or whether it will be later.

Because of the possible uncertainty of the replacement vessel's arrival coinciding with the sale, I looked at the other routes operated by the company because I recalled earlier in the year an announcement that two of the three vessels (Superfast VII and Superfast VIII) used on its Baltic seas services had been sold, although they would continue to operate under Superfast livery until "the end of 2007 at the latest", under the new owner. I also read that the third vessel used in the Baltic, Superfast IX, has recently been sold as well.

From what I can see from the company's website for the Adriatic Sea services (its home area), these are unaffected, but it is quite clear that a major restructuring is underway, seemingly with a view to reducing the company's indebtedness. Shipping is by its very nature a cyclical business, as I know from my professional past, but it may be that the increasing costs of fuel and the rise in international terrorism in recent years is affecting the company, as it seems already to have done to a number of others, both in the ferry and airline industries, not to mention the well-known problems with the company which operates the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France.

Apart from the wider economic effect of the loss of a direct ferry service between Scotland and Belgium, which may not actually happen if the latest press release can be taken at face value, it will complicate my own plans if the service does disappear because I had planned to use it in January and April of next year as part of my travel plans to and from Spain as I much prefer to drive on the Continent for a longer distance if I can thereby avoid the long trek down to Plymouth (via the M6 and M5 chaos) to take the crossing to Santander in Spain. The other alternative is to use the Hull to Zeebrugge route, but so far as I am aware pets are not carried on that route.

I doubt if we will know before about October or November of this year what Superfast has in mind for 2007 for the Scotland to Belgium route; I will just have to keep my fingers crossed!
(The most recent media report that I can trace was in October 2005 when the service was cut back to three times a week.)

UPDATE: (Monday 9OCT06) See my later posting on 9th October, here, after the sailing schedule for 2007 was announced.

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