Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ministers Meet Over Migrants at Calais as Road Haulage Freight Groups Call for Military Response

Pressure from HGV and Rail Cargo Interests to Resolve the Problem
Shipping News Feature

UK – FRANCE – The proposed meeting today (August 20) of UK Home Secretary Theresa May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in Calais has been welcomed by freight and logistics stakeholders and the news comes just as the police forces of both countries have sworn to work more closely together to resolve the migrant situation which is plaguing the region and causing damage and expense to road haulage interests, and injury, and even death, to the displaced persons involved.

The ministers are meeting to agree methods of providing greater security measures to protect cross channel freight traffic from being disrupted by people seeking to enter the UK. The Rail Freight Group (RFG) is amongst the trade associations which are pressuring the UK government to take more positive action. The RFG points out that this problem has seriously affected cross channel rail freight, in addition to the more obvious damage done to hauliers and their customers.

Delays and disruption to trains caused by migrants invading the terminal at Calais are increasing, leading to cancelled rail freight services and a loss of customer confidence. Cross channel rail freight has been slowly increasing since the last period of disruption at the start of the century, and in particularly in the last year, but the present situation threatens to undo this good progress, forcing supermarket goods, steel, automotive components and other goods onto alternative routes.

The RFG has urged both ministers to ensure that measures to improve the security of rail freight at Calais Frethun are a fundamental part of any deal to ensure the continuation and growth of cross Channel rail freight services, saying additional security measures are urgently needed, including ensuring that the SNCF rail freight terminal is included within the boundaries of the adjacent Eurotunnel terminal security plans.

The problem of course is not limited to a single border crossing point and immediately after the meeting with Ms May Msieu Cazeneuve travels to Berlin to discuss the wider problem with his German counterpart. Analysts predict that the number of migrants fleeing into Germany this year could number up to three quarters of a million, many presumably having travelled north from Greece and Italy where around 250,000 are known to have arrived already this year.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) meanwhile has issued advice for drivers passing through Northern France and also canvassed its members with a questionnaire to discover the depth of the problem. Ahead of today’s meeting the FTA has lobbied attendees to request that compensation for affected firms be considered at government level.

According to the FTA, the cost to UK hauliers whose vehicles were stuck on the M20 in Kent was over £21 million during the 28 days that Operation Stack was implemented between 23 June and 2 August 2015. The estimated cost does not include loss of business, spoilt cargoes, missed export deadlines or the percentage of journeys diverted during Operation Stack, all of which have meant additional costs for freight operators and their clients. James Hookham, FTA’s Deputy Chief Executive, said:

“The FTA has calculated that the UK lorries queued during Operation Stack accounted for only 15% of all HGVs affected and therefore the wider costs to hauliers across Europe are significantly higher. So the French Government should accept that they are liable not only for the cost to British hauliers, but to all others involved. The weeks of chaos on the roads in Kent were unacceptable and we need a long-term solution to Operation Stack, this situation cannot be allowed to happen again. As the industrial dispute with the MyFerryLink workers has not been resolved, there is every likelihood that we could see a repeat performance before the summer is out.”

This last comment may be the opinion of the FTA, and indeed protests by ex-ferry workers continue, but for those directly involved in the MyFerryLink dispute, namely Eurotunnel and DFDS, the matter may well be considered closed as the staff were never employed by the owners of the RoRo vessels involved, but by the SCOP organisation, whose contract with the tunnel operator expired in July as detailed in many previous stories, whilst jobs at DFDS were refused as SCOP demanded full employment for all its members from the new owners.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has of course also been vociferous about a situation which directly affects so many of the organisation’s members, saying this week that it agrees with the view of the French police that the installation of extra fencing at Calais to stop migrants, intent on crossing the Channel to reach the UK, will simply push the problem elsewhere.

The RHA says that drivers of heavy goods vehicles on the last leg of their journey, even at ten miles away from the Port, will be put at greater risk of threat and intimidation from the subsequently increased number of migrants and it is therefore essential that security surrounding the wider Calais environs is increased to deter their actions, insisting that only the French military have the manpower needed to contain, separate, segregate and remove migrants from intimidating HGV traffic. RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett said:

“We remain of the firm view that an efficient, strategic, security solution must be put in place to allow the safe and free passage of trucks through the Calais area. Until then, those intent on crossing the Channel illegally will simply move further out and concentrate their activities on the approach roads. We came to the conclusion that if we are to be effective, we need first-hand knowledge of the situation as and when it develops. Therefore the RHA now has an ‘on the ground, round the clock’ presence in Calais, providing us with up to the minute intelligence as to the latest migrant activity.

“At the moment things appear to have quietened down. The migrants are tired and a number are wounded. But we are in no doubt that the current respite will be short-lived. Our observer has spoken at length to many drivers as they wait to make the crossing. The unanimous view is that more unrest is imminent and the fear of the migrant threat remains strong.

“It is crucial that this period be used effectively to draft in reinforcements to step-up the security surveillance. One of the points highlighted by our observer many times over recent days has been the lack of any substantial police presence. Our major concern is that if the situation suddenly worsens, the security measures currently in place will quite simply be unable to cope and the lives of drivers will be put at risk.”