Thursday, August 13, 2015

Some RoRo Freight Ferry Traffic Profits from Migrants and Vandalism in France

Shippers and HGV Road Haulage Drivers Choose Alternative Routes by Sea and Air
Shipping News Feature

UK – FRANCE – It seems the disastrous situation which has occurred at the crossing points in, or adjacent to, Dover and Calais may not have been such bad news for one interested party. RoRo freight and passenger ferry firm P&O Ferries has announced that it has seen a sharp rise in HGVs using its alternative routes to cross the Channel, with east coast British ports seeing road haulage operators choosing to pay increased fares and mileage to get their vehicles overseas. Whilst problems at the Channel Tunnel persist, with both targeted vandalism and the now ever present migrant crisis, elsewhere the situation is more relaxed.

P&O Ferries recorded significant increases in volumes of HGVs crossing the North Sea to and from all three of its east coast ports last month, with a year-on-year uplift of 172% on the Teesport to Zeebrugge route. The Hull to Zeebrugge route saw an 84% year-on-year increase in July while the Tilbury to Zeebrugge route saw a 74% increase. In total, P&O Ferries carried 2,518 HGVs across the North Sea during the month. Zeebrugge is a popular choice as it lies on the Belgian coast just 80 miles from Calais.

Annually the twenty strong P&O fleet is claimed to carry 2 million freight units, and this increased demand for P&O Ferries' services from the east coast of England comes at a time when the company is also carrying extremely high volumes of HGVs on its Dover to Calais route as DFDS and the Tunnel suffer the consequences of misplaced industrial action by ex-ferry workers. In July, the ferry operator carried 123,000 freight units across the English Channel. Janette Bell, Commercial Director at P&O Ferries, commented:

"Importers and exporters who have previously crossed to the continent via the Channel tunnel are starting to look at longer routes from Teesport, Hull and Tilbury as a more reliable alternative. Exporters know the value and time sensitive nature of their deliveries, whether they are perishable goods or manufacturing components. It is significant that they are now becoming increasingly aware of the alternative North Sea routes to the continent which we offer. As the British economy continues to grow, we expect to see more demand for services from Teesport, Hull and Tilbury."

In a similar vein companies which specialise in air freight solutions are also claiming a percentage increase in traffic due to the situation. Pan-European time critical logistics specialist BDA (Bespoke Distribution Aviation) says it has tripled its charter flight tally since the troubles began. With automotive products being a major part of the firm’s portfolio, vehicle production lines cannot risk being shut down for any time at all. Group Managing Director at BDA, Kevin Turner, explained:

“We are finding that the disruption to cross channel services is forcing a lot of automotive OEMs to consider air freight as the only viable option for meeting tight delivery deadlines. Lots of automotive businesses affected by the disruption are being forced to make last minute changes to their delivery schedules, and on demand air services like ours are enabling them to continue to deliver sustained levels of service.”

Another effect the problems have had is a rise in freight rates as hauliers pass on the extra costs which the severe delays, re-routing etc. are causing them to incur. With drivers suffering stress caused by the excessively long waits, queuing out of reach of proper facilities and migrant incursions, companies are beginning to introduce surcharges to cover their increased expenses. Fines for carrying concealed migrants of course are now also a huge worry both for drivers and employers but there are steps to be taken to mitigate the risk of this.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has pointed out that an essential for any operator crossing the Channel these days is to ensure they are registered with the UK Border Force (UKBF). With the news that penalties have tripled in the past three years from 998 to 3,319 in 2014/2015, often costing firms and individuals thousands of pounds, this would seem to be an obvious, common sense move.

For a haulier to register with the UKBF Accreditation Scheme they will need to complete an application form. The official title for the scheme is the ‘UK Visas and Immigration's Civil Penalty Accreditation Scheme for Hauliers’ and, as the RHA points out, most of the basic measures involved would be undertaken by a responsible operator in any case, details of what’s required can be seen here. As long as the operator and driver can evidence they have complied with the UKBF requirements such as driver training, providing basic protection for vehicles and carrying out checks where and when suitable, these will mitigate any penalty which would normally be imposed.

The situation in France is of course a complicated one, although the migrant situation has become an ever present factor, it has been worsened by the action of ex ferry staff hell bent on disrupting the activities of Eurotunnel and DFDS who they see as the cause of their unemployment, self-assessment seemingly being beyond the grasp of the average ex worker involved, with the current actions simply reinforcing the stereotype most people have of the protestors. This view has been formed about employees who have persistently opted for industrial action in the face of economic realities, eventually falling to their fate in a classic self-fulfilling prophesy.

With this catalogue of protest as a backdrop the migrants have simply stepped up their efforts to cross the Channel, with French police reluctant to take action against fellow countrymen even when engaged in a pyro maniacal frenzy, and the migrants chancing their collective arms in the face of this perceived weakness. RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett commented:

“The broader issue of migrants is a complete nightmare for our members. We again call on the French government to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that migrants are separated from lorries in the Calais area; and we call on the UK government to support that more strongly in its dealings with the French government. For several weeks we have been calling on the French to deploy their military and the need for them to do so is now clear to everyone.

“It is impossible for drivers to prevent determined migrants getting into trucks and with 5,000 migrants in the Calais area our drivers are exposed, whether they are following the [UKBF]code of practice or not. We need urgent action to protect drivers, their vehicles and their loads when moving through the Calais are and we are simply not getting that. The authorities are failing in their duty of care towards our industry and the result is chaos in Calais, losses for transport companies that are simply trying to do their job, drivers increasingly refusing to do the work, the UK supply chain incurring massive costs that will drive up the price of food and goods in the shops, and massive disruption in Kent due to queuing lorries.”

Photo: An aerial shot of the Port of Tilbury presents a very different picture than that of Dover.