UK Scraps Brexit Ferry Deal with Seaborne Freight

BrexitIllustration. Image Courtesy: Pixabay under CC0 Creative Commons license

The UK Department of Transport has terminated the ferry contract awarded to Seaborne Freight last year as part of the UK government’s plan to avoid the likely congestion at British ports stemming from the no-Brexit deal.

Namely, the looming hard-Brexit is expected to bring severe congestion in and around UK ports from March 29, 2019 amid increased border checks by European Union Member States.

The cancellation was announced over the weekend as the Irish firm Arklow Shipping, which was backing Seaborne Freight, decided to withdraw from the deal, Reuters reported citing the spokeswoman of the Department of Transport. As informed, the department is in advanced talks with other companies to secure additional capacity.

Arklow Shipping owns and operates a fleet of 55 dry bulk vessels, trading primarily in North Western European waters.

The company disclosed in a letter to the Department of Transport, dated January 18,  that it had been working with Seaborne for 12 months in connection with the company’s proposal to develop new freight services between the UK and continental Europe, i.e., Ramsgate and Ostend.

As such, the company was planning to provide equity finance for the purchase of vessels and an equity stake within Seaborne, as the operating entity of the project.

Managing Director of Arklow, James A Tyrrell, voiced his support to and confidence in Seaborne to provide experienced and capable shipping professionals as well as viable and deliverable service.

“It is with regret that Seaborne Freight is not in a position to add any further comment, as we remain bound by a confidentiality clause with the DfT,” the company said in an emailed statement when approached by World Maritime News for a comment.

The GBP 14 million contract has been in the center of public criticism as Seaborne Freight, established in 2017, has no ferries in its fleet or trading history.

Seaborne Freight was selected together with DFDS and Brittany Ferries to provide additional ferry capacity in the North Sea as part of a total contract value of GBP 103 million (USD 131.3 million).

General Secretary of UK’s shipping union RMT Mick Cash said that the union had protested a number of times “over the fiasco” of the government’s Brexit ferry contracts to both the Department for Transport and the ports, stressing that the cancellation of the Seaborne Freight ferry contract comes as no surprise.

Related: UK Ports Widely Unprepared for Brexit

“The whole exercise is a complete and utter shambles with the government ignoring union calls on what needs to happen. Instead ‎they are blundering on from crisis to crisis.

“RMT has set out a package of demands that would guarantee that the Brexit ferry contracts are crewed by British seafarers, on decent pay and conditions negotiated through recognized trade unions. This government “wing and a prayer” approach was always doomed‎ to failure and it’s time for Chris Grayling (Transport Minister) to stop attacking RMT and start listening to people who actually know what they are talking about instead of the chancers selling him a pile of old rope they done even own,” he added.

Grayling has also been targeted by severe criticism following the ferry contract cancellation, with Labour party representatives calling for his resignation.

World Maritime News Staff

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