AN influential shipping expert has added his support for a North Devon ferry service from Ilfracombe to South Wales after saying it was inevitable. Professor Alf Baird, head of the Maritime Research Group at Edinburgh s Napier University, has joined ot

AN influential shipping expert has added his support for a North Devon ferry service from Ilfracombe to South Wales after saying it was "inevitable." Professor Alf Baird, head of the Maritime Research Group at Edinburgh's Napier University, has joined other leading British academics to back proposals for a multi-million pound 45-minute fast catamaran service to Swansea.Supporters have also been given the thumbs up by leading Welsh academic Professor Brian Morgan, who undertook a detailed analysis of the financial and business plans and said they were "very robust."Momentum for the twin commercial link between North Devon and South Wales plus Penarth to Minehead have been spurred on after a business plan, plus all the facts and figures were set before top experts - and not found wanting."The routes are inevitable!" said Professor Baird."Many historic ferry routes are being re-started due to rising road transport costs and worsening congestion, aided by ongoing technological advances in ferry design."PopulationOrganisers behind the scheme have produced hard data to support the project, looking at target populations and the number of passengers already using ferry services in other parts of the UK and around the world.Chris Marrow, who is leading the project, said it was a definite milestone and although there had been a great deal of market research in the past, this was the first time the data had been properly analysed to produce hard figures."Our business plan is now being finalised," he added."A company has already been formed, the financing of the first vessel is being actively discussed with the banks and equity partners are being sought."The experts have endorsed the principle, verified the calculations and said the business plan is robust, so this puts us in a very strong position in terms of getting funding and means we will be taken that much more seriously by potential investors."The potential of the service has clearly impressed. Mr Marrow gave one Scottish route as an example of how well used ferries could be:"On the three main routes crossing the Clyde, you have got three-and-a-half million passengers per year," he said."When you add the target population of that area together, it is actually lower than that of South Wales, Devon and Somerset."Although not so unrealistic as to suggest such figures were achievable in the foreseeable future, over "an extended period" of several years Mr Marrow said he thought the new Bristol Channel service could still see in the region of one million people climbing aboard. Potential investors, equity partners or anyone with an interest can contact Chris Marrow at themariner2008-ferryproject@yahoo.co.uk.