Concerns over new cross-Channel ferry service

Seafrance ship
Seafrance ship

My Ferry Link will use former SeaFrance employees and ships

by business editor Trevor Sturgess

A new cross-Channel ferry service launches on Monday amid complaints by rivals it could pose unfair competition.

My Ferry Link replaces SeaFrance, a French-owned operator that was liquidated in January.

But it is using former SeaFrance employees and the same ships - Berlioz, Rodin and Nord-Pas de Calais.

But a row erupted after the ferries were controversially bought by Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel and leased back to a new company formed by a French co-operative of former SeaFrance workers.

The new company has created hundreds of jobs in France and around 50 in Dover.

But rival operators P&O Ferries and DFDS/LD Lines have both urged the Office for Fair Trading and its French counterpart to probe competition issues.

They are concerned Eurotunnel - a monopoly player on the sub-sea route - should be allowed to grab a share of the ferry market, even though the ships are leased to a third party.

P&O has invested £300m in two new superferries and still has the major share of the cross-Channel ferry route. But previouscomplaints about unfair French public subsidy for SeaFrance was upheld by competition watchdogs.

What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below
What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below

P&O spokesman Brian Rees confirmed the Dover-based company had been in touch with the OFT.

"There is something a little unusual about the biggest player in the market buying the assets of a former competitor. We need reassurance that this isn’t going to be unfair competition."

There had always been fierce competition on the route. "That’s not a problem as long as it’s a level playing field. In the SeaFrance situation, it clearly wasn’t and the competition authorities agreed."

Chris Newey, passenger director for DFDS Seaways on the English Channel, is equally concerned.

He said: “Eurotunnel has a monopoly of the Channel Tunnel traffic and now they’re extending their operations in the ferry arena. That’s a base the ferry companies can’t match and given their dominant market share, that’s a concern we have.”

Robin Wilkins, former general manager of SeaFrance, is spearheading the Dover side of the My Ferry Link operation as UK managing director.

He told KentOnline the company’s financial arrangements and relationship with Eurotunnel would be confirmed after the competition authorities had reported.

He admitted it was not the best time of the year to launch a new service, but timing had been out of the company’s control.

A website would be up and running soon to take bookings, he added.

Mr Wilkins expected the new service, which would have a distinctive French flavour, to appeal to passenger and freight customers and he was excited by the opportunity to create something new and different.

"I’m looking forward to a reliable high quality service we can take to the market with complete confidence," he said. "It’s nice to have a blend of both some of the staff that were in the previous company and some newcomers and I think we’re going to be very successful.

"It will take time, it’s a long-term project, but I would like to pilot it through the opening phase of its existence."

The first ferry under the new banner arrives in Dover at 6am on Monday.

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