Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RoRo Freight and Passenger Ferry Service Debacle May Be Almost Over

MyFerryLink Case Has Seen Courts, Appeals, Blackmail and Arson
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – Even as news of a deal regarding the future of the cross Channel MyFerryLink freight and passenger service is announced, confusion reigns. The whole affair has been steeped in strife since the collapse of SNCF owned SeaFrance, after which Eurotunnel purchased the ships and ran them under the MyFerryLink brand. Now, even as we are told peace has descended, with the announcement that the new owner of two of the RoRo ships, DFDS, agreeing to employ some of the SCOP ex SeaFrance staff, the picture is still not completely clear. The Danish company has declared it will take on 202 whilst the French government, as announced in various media, says the figure is 402.

The truth is actually somewhat different, our story of June 28 told how DFDS were prepared to offer the 202 jobs from when it first declared an interest in purchasing the ships in question. The deal now struck seems to confirm that that from that company’s point of view, the situation remains the same for all the protesting, sabotage and vandalism which we have seen since that time. What has changed is that Eurotunnel it seems are also prepared to offer a large proportion of the disenfranchised workers future employment. Carsten Jensen, senior vice-president at DFDS, said:

“This ends a long period of uncertainty for both our employees and our customers on the Channel as this agreement gives us the platform needed to create a sustainable ferry service on the Channel. It also means that we have an equal number of French- and UK-flagged ships on the Channel, making the service a truly Anglo-French partnership, which we believe is in everyone’s best interests.”

Since SCOP rejected the DFDS job offer on June 30 the two ships which are being leased to the Danish group until the French authorities clear Eurotunnel’s right to sell them, have apparently been held hostage by SCOP and made it impossible for the vessels to be handed over. Now unconfirmed reports reveal that Eurotunnel have agreed to employ a further 200, many as ‘security staff’ leaving only around 180 of the original SeaFrance staff unaccounted for, some of whom have presumably found work elsewhere in the interim. Eurotunnel’s director of public affairs, John Keefe, commented:

“It’s really good news for the business. Obviously we’d prefer to be operating these ships ourselves, but with capacity back on the Channel ferry routes, traffic is able to flow again. It means the infrastructure leading to the ports won’t be blocked, and we can get traffic away on Eurotunnel.”

To the industry observer it can be viewed two ways, either Eurotunnel has cleverly used its current woes with the excessive number of migrants trying to breach its security on a nightly basis, to give an opportunity to the workers it formerly employed as subcontractors, or, the company has folded in the face of blackmail. With both ferries in the hands of the disgruntled SCOP staff, the authorities not prepared to act despite nightly acts of arson and threatening behaviour, many will doubtless take this second view.

Even as the story seems about to end there will still be legal ramifications remaining. When Eurotunnel bought the assets of SeaFrance the French Court forbade the company to sell them on in too short a period (hence the current lease to DFDS). In the UK the Competition and Markets Authority realised that the definition of what constitutes a merger, rather than the purchase of assets from a failed operation, are unclear, something that helped cause a protracted series of legal cases and appeals.

To understand the full history of this debacle simply type MyFerryLink or SeaFrance into the News Search Box at the head of the page.