Published: 10:47, 31 December 2018
| Updated: 12:50, 31 December 2018
A firm which has never run a ferry service has been handed a £13.8 million contract by the government.
Seaborne Freight is one of three companies that has been awarded the deal to run crossings between Ramsgate and Ostend by the Department for Transport, in what is being called "a situation of extreme urgency".
The contracts, worth £108 million in total, have been designed to boost ferry shippings in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and state that services must be operational by March 29.
A contract award notice says: "The Department for Transport has awarded a contract to Seaborne Freight (UK) Ltd for the supply of additional freight capacity on ferry services between England and Belgium in order to minimise the potential disruption of trade across the Short Straits in the event that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.
"The ferry services under the contracts are to be operational by March 29."
The notice cites "extreme urgency" as the reason for not allowing other companies to compete for a tender.
It states: "A situation of extreme urgency exists in the context of UK-EU roll-on-roll-off ferry capacity by virtue of the UK leaving the EU on 29.3.2019 and the prospect that this exit may be on a no-deal basis.
"This extreme urgency arises from a combination of events, and the anticipated response to those events of a range of entities, including:
"1) The possibility of severe congestion at and around UK ports from 29.3.2019, caused by increased border checks by European Union Member States, and consequently a significant reduction in capacity at ports on the short straits. It is anticipated that this could, without further intervention to secure additional ferry capacity, cause delivery of critical goods to be delayed and cause significant wider disruption to the UK economy and to the road network in Kent;
"A situation of extreme urgency exists in the context of UK-EU roll-on-roll-off ferry capacity by virtue of the UK leaving the EU on 29.3.2019 and the prospect that this exit may be on a no-deal basis..." - Department for Transport
"2) The significant lead times that are required to source additional ferry capacity which require action to be taken several months in advance of the capacity being required to be delivered and
"3) Unexpected and unforeseeable limitations on the extent to which the market has to date been able to respond to these circumstances by putting in place contingency plans to deal with this scenario."
Crossing ceased at the port in 2013 after the collapse of TransEuropa.
In November, a plan worth £200 million was said to be being drawn up to use Ramsgate port to bypass a feared Dover-Calais bottleneck in the aftermath of Brexit.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was believed to want to expand the site to accommodate large ships in a bid to develop new sea routes to facilitate trade with the EU.
When approached by KentOnline's sister paper Thanet Extra in November, however, the Department for Transport remained vague about proposals.
A spokesman said: "We remain confident of reaching an agreement with the EU, but it is only sensible for government and industry to prepare for a range of scenarios.
"We are continuing to work closely with a range of partners on contingency plans to ensure that trade can continue to move as freely as possible between the UK and Europe."
Thanet District Council has been contacted for comment but is unavailable.