AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Scottish company and a Dutch port are discussing launching a new ferry line ahead of Britain’s exit from the European Union, potentially providing a swift alternative route for Scottish exports such as whisky if Brexit causes transport delays.
The ferry line would run between Rosyth, near Edinburgh, and Groningen Seaport at Eemshaven, in the far north of the Netherlands near the German border, according to RTV Noord, which named the company as TEC Offshore.
A spokesman for Groningen Seaport confirmed the plan was being investigated but referred questions to “the Scottish side”.
A spokesman for TEC Offshore confirmed discussions but declined immediate comment.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a negotiated exit deal. Critics of this approach have said that leaving without a transition agreement could lead to lengthy customs delays on existing freight routes.
“This would be a daily crossing, which is fantastic,” said Margaret Simpson, head of policy for Scotland & Northern England at the Freight Transport Association. She said the idea had been under consideration for some time and might make sense even if there were no Brexit.
But in light of Brexit “it makes a lot of sense, given the potential delays”, she said. “Rather than going to southern England to sit in a queue, just drive to Rosyth,” she said.
New ferries can carry up to 200 heavy goods vehicles, in addition to 500 cars and passengers, which means a new line could offer a Scottish exporters a welcome alternative.
The lion’s share of Scottish freight going to Europe usually travels by truck to Dover, though some leaves from other ports in the east and south of England.
“The key to the success of this route will be getting whisky on board,” Simpson said, adding that timber would be another possibility.
Scotland exports hundreds of millions of bottles of whisky annually, worth an estimated 4.36 billion pounds ($5.29 billion) in 2018, with about 30% of that going to Europe.
Scottish sea passengers usually travel between Newcastle, England and Ijmuiden, Netherlands at present.
“Nice that the Scots see Groningen as the gateway to Europe,” Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Kasja Ollongren tweeted in response to the news of the proposed ferry.
The RTV report quoted TEC director David Kellas as saying it would be difficult to have the line running by the presumptive Brexit date of Oct. 31, “but we’re an ambitious company”.
Groningen Seaport spokesman Erik Bertholet said it was not certain Eemshaven is ready to receive passenger traffic.
“That is still part of what we’re studying,” he said, referring further questions to TEC.
Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Frances Kerry