Wednesday, 2 January 2019

UK to spend over £100 million on chartering 'no-deal Brexit' ferries


Brittany Ferries, DFDS and UK firm Seaborne Freight awarded contracts to provide additional ro-ro capacity

Stuart Todd 


The UK will spend more than £100 million  in chartering extra ferries to ease "severe congestion" at Dover, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, BBC News reports quoting documents from the Department for Transport (DfT).

Over the last few months, additional ferry contracts have been awarded to French, Danish and British companies.

The contingency plans allow for almost 4,000 more lorries a week to come and go from other ports, including Plymouth, Poole, and Portsmouth.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the awards were "a small but important element" of its 'no-deal 'planning.

In documents outlining the agreements, the DfT states that an "unforeseeable" situation of "extreme urgency" meant there was no time for the contracts to be put out to tender - the standard practice for public procurements.

The department also states that increased border checks by EU countries in the case of a no-deal Brexit could "cause delivery of critical goods to be delayed", and "significant wider disruption to the UK economy and to the road network in Kent".

In a statement, a spokesperson for the DfT said the contracts would provide "significant extra capacity" to UK ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but stressed that the government remained committed to reaching a deal with the EU.

The UK Chamber of Shipping said customs procedures were a bigger problem.

Chief executive Bob Sanguinetti said: "Government is rightly preparing for every eventuality... but it is not clear that government-chartered ships can move goods faster or more efficiently than the private sector".
"Those goods will still need to go through the same customs procedures in ports - which is where the real problems would be."
Three suppliers were awarded a total of £107.7 million – France's Brittany Ferries (£46.6 million), Denmark's DFDS (£47.3 million) and British firm Seaborne Freight (£13.8 million).

It is understood that the three firms chosen will retain a portion of their award even if their services are no longer needed, due to a deal being reached with Brussels.

However, in that event, the government would then seek to sell the extra capacity back to the market.

Brittany Ferries told the BBC it was contracted to add 19 weekly return sailings to three of its routes: Roscoff to Plymouth, Cherbourg to Poole and Le Havre to Portsmouth - a 50% increase on its current schedule.

The other firms are understood to be adding services at Immingham and Felixstowe too.

The additional crossings - equivalent to about 10% of existing traffic across the Dover strait - will provide up to half a million tonnes a month in extra capacity.

Lorries diverted to other ports may be expected to pay the standard rate for their altered journeys.


Concern over UK firm awarded 'no-deal Brexit' ferry contract

Seaborne Freight to run Ramsgate-Ostend ro-ro service but 'has no ships and no trading history'

Concerns have been raised over the readiness of a British firm contracted by the government to run extra ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to BBC News.
Seaborne Freight was awarded a £13.8 million contract this week to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend.

The firm has never run a ferry service and a local councillor said it would be impossible to launch before Brexit, the report claimed.

The government said it had awarded the contract in "the full knowledge that Seaborne is a new shipping provider".

The Department for Transport said that "the extra capacity and vessels would be provided as part of its first services".

"As with all contracts, we carefully vetted the company's commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award," it added.

Interviewed by BBC News, Conservative Kent county councillor Paul Messenger said it was impossible for the government to have carried out sufficient checks on the firm.

"It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done ?" he asked.

Mr Messenger said he didn't believe that it was possible to set up a new ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend by 29 March - the date when the UK is due to leave the European Union.

The narrow berths for ships at the Port of Ramsgate mean there are only a few suitable commercial vessels, most of which are currently already in service, he said.

Ferry services have not operated from Ramsgate Port since 2013 after cross-channel operator TransEuropa collapsed, owing around £3.3 million  to Thanet District Council, the report noted.

Mr Messenger said he was "perplexed" at the choice of Seaborne Freight to run the service.

"Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14 million? I don't understand the logic of that," he said.

But Seaborne Freight, which was formed less than two years ago to revive the Ramsgate-Ostend line, insisted it will launch its freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend before 29 March.

The BBC News report quoted chief executive, Ben Sharp, who said the firm had been founded by seasoned shipping veterans.

He declined to give details on which ships it planned to use for the service, saying the information was commercially sensitive, but said they planned to start operations with two ships before "very quickly" increasing to four by late summer.

He said dredging in Ramsgate Port would start on 4 January in preparation for the freight service.

In a statement, the firm said it had originally intended to start the service in mid-February but this had now been delayed until late-March for operational reasons.

Directors and shareholders had been working during the past two years to restart the service.

"This phase has included locating suitable vessels, making arrangements with the ports of Ostend and Ramsgate, building the infrastructure, as well as crewing the ferries once they start operating", the statement added.

The UK government has also awarded additional, much larger ro-ro contracts to Brittany Ferries and DFDS as part of a total outlay of almost £108 million.

The new contracts are part of the government's contingency planning, which aims to ease the potential for severe congestion at main port Dover if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

A British firm contracted by the UK government to provide additional ro-ro capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit,  will only receive payment if it can run “an effective service”, the Department of Transport  (DfT) has confirmed to Lloyd's Loading List.

Controversy has surrounded the appointment of London-based Seaborne Freight which has been awarded a £13.8 million contract to operate vessels between Ramsgate and Ostend  despite having never run a ferry service.

Interviewed by BBC News last week, Conservative Kent county councillor Paul Messenger said it was impossible for the government to have carried out sufficient checks on the firm.

"It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done ?" he asked.

Mr Messenger said he didn't believe that it was possible to set up a new ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend by 29 March - the date when the UK is due to leave the European Union.

The narrow berths for ships at the Port of Ramsgate mean there are only a few suitable commercial vessels, most of which are currently already in service, he said.

Mr Messenger said he was "perplexed" at the choice of Seaborne Freight to run the service.

"Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14 million? I don't understand the logic of that," he said.

However, a DfT spokesperson said the Department was “aware of the career history of the leadership team at Seaborne Freight and due diligence confirmed that there were no significant issues”.

The spokesperson added.“Our contractual arrangements clearly reflect Seaborne’s status as a new ferry operator and as such Seaborne Freight is obliged to meet a number of stringent time-staged requirements to demonstrate that it can provide an effective service with break clauses in the DfT’s favour if it fails to meet them.

“Taxpayer’s money will only be transferred following the provision of an effective service.”

No one at Seaborne Freight was immediately available to comment when contacted by Lloyd's Loading List.

However, a BBC News report quoted its chief executive, Ben Sharp, who said the firm had been founded by seasoned shipping veterans.

He declined to give details on which ships it planned to use for the service, saying the information was commercially sensitive, but said they planned to start operations with two ships before "very quickly" increasing to four by late summer.
He said dredging in Ramsgate Port would start on 4 January in preparation for the freight service.

In a statement, the firm said it had originally intended to start the service in mid-February but this had now been delayed until late-March for operational reasons.

Directors and shareholders had been working during the past two years to restart the service.

"This phase has included locating suitable vessels, making arrangements with the ports of Ostend and Ramsgate, building the infrastructure, as well as crewing the ferries once they start operating", the statement added.

Seaborne Freight is one of three companies to be awarded contracts totalling more than £100 million, the others being Brittany Ferries and DFDS, within the framework of contngency plans to ease "severe congestion" at Dover and at other ports if  the UK leaves the European Union without an exit deal.

These plans allow for almost 4,000 more lorries a week to come and go from other ports, including Plymouth, Poole, and Portsmouth.

Brittany Ferries has been contracted to add 19 weekly return sailings to three of its routes: Roscoff to Plymouth, Cherbourg to Poole and Le Havre to Portsmouth - a 50% increase on its current schedule.

The plans are also thought to extend to the ports of Immingham and Felixstowe.

The additional crossings - equivalent to about 10% of existing traffic across the Dover strait - will provide up to half a million tonnes a month in extra capacity.


Originally scheduled for December 2018, the UK parliament will later this month vote on the country's withdrawal agreement from the EU drawn up by the government led by prime minister, Theresa May.

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