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Summer of discontent between Dover and Calais

Summer of discontent between Dover and Calais
Recent weeks have seen turmoil on the Dover-Calais ferry service between the UK and France. Industrial action saw the French port close for a few days and then re-open only partially, as well as fires set at the nearby Channel Tunnel, briefly disrupting Eurotunnel services.

The chaos has also intensified attempts by as many as 3,000 illegal migrants camped outside Calais to storm trucks and trains bound for the UK, two dying in their attempts.

In the UK, there have been severe delays and tailbacks of trucks by as much as 35km on the main M20 motorway from London, one section having to be closed to act as an emergency lorry park (‘Operation Stack’). UK politicians and freight interests alike have been fulminating over how such a major trade link to the UK can be compromised by the action of few hundred ex-ferry employees.

To recap, problems began when the MyFerryLink service ceased operating as of 1 July, with the loss of 600 jobs. The service was using two ferries formerly belonging to defunct Sea France, which the SCOP collective of mainly ex-Sea France workers was leasing off the ferries’ new owner Eurotunnel.

The UK competition authority had ordered the service to be disbanded on anti-competition grounds, and although that decision was eventually overturned, the long period of uncertainty over its future helped seal MyFerryLink’s fate.

Channel operator DFDS Seaways promptly bareboat chartered the two ferries, Rodin and Berlioz, with an option to buy off Eurotunnel, offering to employ 202 of MyFerryLink’s staff. SCOP rejected the offer and began what it threatened would be a long summer of industrial action.

SCOP is reported to have blocked two berths at Calais with Rodin and Berlioz, which it is effectively holding hostage. At the same time DFDS has been asked not to call Calais for fear of exacerbating the situation, and is operating only its other Channel crossing Dover-Dunkerque.

Leading Channel operator P&O Ferries, which briefly diverted its French calls to Boulogne when the port at Calais port was closed, has meanwhile resumed normal Dover-Calais service. In fact it has just announced it is supplementing its five-ship service, which operates 50 crossings daily, with freight-only vessel European Seaways for the peak summer season beginning 1 August, taking its total Channel sailings per day to 58.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that this vital sea crossing functions as efficiently as possible,” commercial director of P&O Ferries Janette Bell said.

Addressing a parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group meeting on July 14, UK Minister of Shipping Robert Goodwill called it “unacceptable” that “two out of five berths at Calais are blocked… and DFDS cannot operate their usual commercial service.” The Minister said the UK would be “putting pressure” on the French government to ensure the Port of Calais remains “secure and fully open” – and on the separate migrant question has already supplied Calais with 4km of fencing to make a secure 2km-long corridor for trucks leading to the French port, he added.