Monday, January 9, 2012

RoRo Freight and Passenger Ferry Group Finally Sinks

Tribunal Decision Looks to Sound Death Knell for SeaFrance
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – Despite saying in November that it would be the 28th January before RoRo Ferry operator SeaFrance was finally liquidated the pronouncement today by the Tribunal de Commerce that last minute attempts to save the ailing freight and passenger carrier are not viable effectively finishes the company which commenced cross channel services fifteen years ago and was owned by French national railway group SNCF.

The result will be devastating for the town of Calais where the firm was the largest single employer. Last minute attempts to broker a deal by Eurotunnel in which they would buy Sea France’s three cross channel ferries and rent them back to a workers cooperative was rejected out of hand by the Tribunal which said there was not a single viable offer on the table and pronounced it was ending its support for the continued running of the company.

The judgement will doubtless result in a hail of criticism, particularly for the workers representatives, who have been scorned for their intransigence, SNCF management and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who spoke up at the last minute in support of the workers takeover, a move which many say is merely a cynical move before forthcoming elections after not acting sooner.

As reality bites so accusations of incompetence are bandied about, SNCF say they offered employment elsewhere for staff prepared to relocate setting up a € 36 million fund but this was rejected by the union who ignored the fact the company lost almost a quarter of a billion euros in 2010 alone. SNCF previously offered to guarantee a €160 loan to enable staff to manage the company but this breached EU Anti Competition legislation. There followed an offer from DFDS and shipping group Louis Dreyfus Armateurs , owners of LD Lines ferries to buy Sea France’s vessels but the Court ruled the €6 million or so offered as insufficient.

The largest of the maritime unions involved CFDT Maritime Nord has said SNCF has behaved dishonourably and accused the Government of actually wanting to see the company collapse despite Msieu Sarkozy’s pronouncements whilst critics have said the union acted ‘like the Mafia’, meanwhile the Government are said to be considering what action they can take to alleviate the situation.

Critics will say that the problems at Sea France are symptomatic of oversupply which is being seen elsewhere in the sea freight sector and this has merely been a case of survival of the fittest. Given the history of unrest when French maritime workers are disgruntled the scenes which greeted today’s news were unsurprising with flares lit and placards blaming the Government in evidence.