By Oliver Farrimond
A BRAND new ferry link worth millions to the Scottish economy completed its maiden voyage yesterday – despite the captain suffering a heart attack just minutes before departure.
Captain Antonio Arbilli suffered the attack and immediately underwent emergency surgery, leaving the Scottish Viking’s first journey all at sea.
However a replacement captain, Dominico Comisso, who for legal reasons had to be Italian, was quickly located in Belgium and flown in.
The ship was four hours late arriving at Rosyth ferry terminal following the fiasco and captain Abilli is said to be “in good shape”.
Thomas Woldbye CEO of the ferry group Norfolkline said: “Unfortunately captain Arbilli suffered a heart attack just before the boat was about to leave.
“But luckily his emergency surgery went well and he is doing okay.
“We are pleased that we managed to find a replacement and fly him in so quickly that we were away in under four hours.”
The Scottish Viking will reinstate Scotland’s only continental ferry link to Zeebrugge, Belguim, and will provide a huge boost to the economy thanks to an influx of tourists and freight.
It will also take 1.4 million lorry miles per year off Scotland’s roads.
The vessel will initially operate three voyages a week although a greater frequency of service is said to be in the pipeline.
The ship was welcomed at Rosyth by First Minister Alex Salmond, who said it was a “real success story” after the service was scrapped last year.
He said: “I’m delighted to welcome the Scottish Viking and its first Homecoming passengers to Scotland.
“It is vital for Scotland to maintain connections with major European markets in a time of global recession.
“Not only will this new link be a boost for Fife’s local economy, it will be an environmentally friendly route home for Scotland’s friends, family and visitors.
“I’m sure the Scottish Viking will be glad to find that it has arrived at Rosyth and not Up Helly Aa, but passengers will still find Scotland’s reputation for festivals, fun and entertainment well deserved.”
Philip Riddle, the VisitScotland chief executive said: “Direct access to a destination is a key consideration when visitors plan their holiday and we are certain the new route from Zeebrugge to Rosyth will provide an excellent means of access for those taking touring holidays and provide Scotland with an invaluable link for European visitors.”