The British Government has cancelled a £13.8M contract awarded to Seaborne Freight to run accompanied ferry services between Ostend and Ramsgate in the event of a "no deal" Brexit after a key backer for Seaborne pulled out
The contract awarded at the start of this year has been cancelled by the DfT, after a key backer for Seaborne, Irish shipping company, Arklow Shipping, unexpectedly pulled out of the deal, making it impossible for Seaborne to secure the ships in time. The ships and a Dutch-based ship manager had been lined up by Seaborne.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said [Reuters reporting]: "It became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the government. We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement,” she said.
“The government is already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity - including through the Port of Ramsgate - in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”
The spokeswoman said no taxpayer money had been transferred to Seaborne Freight. She added that for commercial reasons the government had previously not been able to name Arklow Shipping’s involvement.
She added that Arklow Shipping’s backing had given the DfT confidence in the viability of the deal, and it "stands by the robust due diligence carried out on Seaborne Freight."
This begs the question why Arklow Shipping backed off. The Ostend-Ramsgate route is an obvious alternative to Dover-Calais for accompanied trucks. While it does not address the overdependency of the UK-Continent supply chain on accompanied trucking, it would reduce overdependency of that model on the Dover Straits (ferries and Eurotunnel).
No ferries have run on the route since 2013 and the absence of a link was sorely missed in the summer of 2015 when a combination of migrants and violent protests by sacked MyFerryLink workers caused havoc for Dover-Calais ferries and Eurotunnel’s freight shuttle services, all but shutting them down.
There are infrastructure issues in Ramsgate and the Port of Ostend has sought guarantees about security because of fears that migrants would move up the coast from Calais.
Thanet District Council, which owns the Port of Ramsgate and has been supporting the dredging programme to get the port ready for a No Brexit deal, is now considering cutting the budget, making it less likely for the port to be able to receive ferries by the end of March.
A further question is why the government has apparently not considered supporting extra Channel tunnel through rail freight services in the event of a no deal Brexit. Fixed link inland railheads in the UK already have all necessary security approvals. Last year a rail industry insider told worldcargonews online that DfT officials are "just not interested in nominating the terminals as customs and phytosanitary inspection points."