Scotland’s only ferry crossing to Europe is celebrating its first anniversary – with the landmark sailing being undertaken by the Captain who lost out on the chance to take the helm on the route’s maiden voyage.
Captain Antonio Arbilli suffered a heart attack just before the Scottish Viking was to leave Zeebrugge in Belgium for its first journey across to the Port of Rosyth in Fife, Scotland, last May.
So when Norfolkline, who operate the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry – Scotland’s only direct sea link to Europe, was planning how to mark the Scottish Viking’s successful first year of service, Capt Arbilli was handed the starring role he was denied last year.
Since the service launch in May 2009, which reinstated Scotland’s only continental ferry link, the route has proved to be a vital transport link for Scotland – making a significant economic contribution in terms of carrying both leisure passengers and freight to and from Scotland.
Chris Newey, Norfolkline’s General Manger of passenger services for Rosyth, said: “It has been a tough year starting and operating the service through the worst recession in living memory. The challenge is to build the passenger traffic throughout the year by continuing to raise awareness of the benefits to both Scottish and European travellers.
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“There is a tremendous sense of goodwill and pride in Scotland about the ferry – we often hear people refer to the Scottish Viking as ‘our boat’.
“The route gives Scottish passengers a leisurely and stress-less overnight crossing to and from Europe – without having to worry if their plane can or cannot fly because of the volcanic ash cloud.”
Norfolkline is looking to introduce a range of offers and marketing initiatives over the coming months to maintain interest and drive up passenger numbers, particularly after the peak summer season.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who welcomed the Scottish Viking into Rosyth on its maiden voyage last year, said: “I was delighted to welcome the first passengers to Scotland last year and pleased to support the first anniversary of this important international ferry service direct to the continent.
“The service offers people across Scotland an accessible route direct to the European mainland, whether for business or pleasure. And of course, it provides our continental neighbours with an easy way to travel to Scotland.
It’s value was highlighted during the recent travel disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud, with Norfolkline making extra space available and hundreds of additional travellers using the ferry as an alternative means to get home.
“I’m particularly glad that Captain Arbilli, who missed out through illness on the Scottish Viking’s maiden voyage last year, has been able take the helm this time around.”
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Italian national Capt Arbilli, 44, who underwent emergency heart surgery before making a full recovery, said he was delighted to be helping the Scottish Viking celebrate its first anniversary.
Capt Arbilli, who had to be replaced by a stand-in skipper last year, said: “No one was more disappointed than me that I could not take part in the maiden sailing last year.”
“Passengers sailing from Zeebrugge to Rosyth on Scotland’s only continental ferry route can be assured of a warm welcome to these shores. In what is still a difficult climate, it is crucial that we work together to get tourism growth back on track and Norfolkline’s unique service will play an important role in that.
“I am also delighted to see that Captain Arbilli has made a full recovery and that he is on board to mark this very special occasion.”
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The Scottish Viking sails three times a week from both ports, allowing thousands of Scottish passengers to enjoy the benefits of the service’s leisurely overnight crossing which avoids the need for the long drive south to English ports.
The port of Zeebrugge, just 10 km away from Bruges, also provides ease of access to the European motorway Network allowing passengers to continue their journey to France, Holland, Germany, Italy and further afield.
Jan Wittouck, Acting Director of Tourism Flanders-Brussels UK, said he would like to to applaud Norfolkline on the first anniversary of the launch of the route.
He said: “Undoubtedly, the introduction of Norfolkline’s affordable route provides the perfect gateway to the Continent for Scottish travellers. This reliable service has become an efficient means of travel for all passengers looking to explore Flanders and its welcoming cities. We look forward to its continued success in the future.”
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Charles Hammond, Group Chief Executive, Forth Ports PLC, said: “I am delighted we are celebrating the one year anniversary of Scotland’s only ferry crossing to Europe. It continues to be an excellent testament to the economic rewards that can be achieved when the public and private sectors come together in partnership.
“As Scotland looks to decrease its carbon footprint, the Scottish Viking is playing an important role by taking cars and lorries off the road and providing a fast and efficient means to reach the continent.
“Forth Ports will now be working with our partners to help them develop the service and further increase the usage of the ferry by the tourism and freight markets.”