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Published: 19:31, 04 January 2019
| Updated: 20:24, 04 January 2019
The boss of a company awarded a contract to provide ferries from Ramsgate in the event of a no-deal Brexit headed a business in Folkestone that collapsed owing a large tax bill.
Ben Sharp is chief executive of Seaborne Freight, which has won a £13.8 million government contract to provide ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend.
Several years ago, he was managing director of Mercator International, which documents from Companies House show was registered at an address in Hythe, Folkestone in 2009.
The company folded when it was the subject of a winding up order and forced into liquidation by HMRC over unpaid tax in 2014.
Mercator International’s accounts for 2013 show that it owed all of its creditors a total £1.78m.
Responding to questions about the company’s demise, Mr Sharp told The Times: "The directors of Seaborne Freight are experienced business people with a long track record in industry.
"They have, between them, opened and in some cases closed, a number of businesses. This is of course not unusual."
The government was already facing questions about its decision to award Seaborne Freight a lucrative contract after it emerged it had no ferries and had not yet signed contracts with either Ramsgate port or Ostend.
It has also drawn ridicule after its website appeared to have cut and pasted terms and conditions from a take-away restaurant.
"It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order," read part of the text on the company's website.
The seemingly cobbled together terms and conditions have since been deleted.
"Seaborne Freight has three months to source the vessels, recruit and train staff, and put all the infrastructure in place to launch the service before we leave the EU... it sounds like a very tall order" - Richard Burnett
The under-fire company is paying for dredging work at Ramsgate as preparations for ferry operations in the short and long term.
It has been involved in discussions with Thanet council about a new route to Ofstend, separate to its role in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Seaborne Freight has been asked for comment, but as yet has not responded.
The DfT said in a statement it was aware of the career history of the leadership team at Seaborne Freight and due diligence confirmed there were no significant issues.
Hauliers have warned that Seaborne Freight faces a race against time to get the port of Ramsgate ready in time for Brexit.
Road Haulage Association chief executive, Richard Burnett says he fears the company will not have the time to get the service up and running for Brexit.
"Seaborne Freight has three months to source the vessels, recruit and train staff, and put all the infrastructure in place to launch the service before we leave the EU.
"It sounds like a very tall order."
While the announcement of additional freight capacity at a number of ports was welcome, it should not be regarded a solution to no-deal chaos at ports, he added.