Firms hope to increase share of cross-channel market.
Transport firms are aiming to capitalise on the demise of SeaFrance, the only French ferry company operating on the Dover-Calais route, after a French court decision on Monday (9 January) forced it into liquidation. An offer by a co-operative of SeaFrance employees to buy the company was rejected by the court as not financially viable.
In October, the European Commission ruled that a proposal to save the company with a €100 million loan by France’s national railway operator SNCF, the owner of SeaFrance, would break state-aid rules.
Rival operators bidding to increase their presence in the cross-Channel market include Danish ferry operator DFDS and French company Louis Dreyfus Lines, which announced plans for a joint challenge to P&0 Ferries on the Dover-Calais route, with two ships.
Their attempt to acquire SeaFrance’s ships last year was turned down by a French court. Paris-based Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel crossing, also announced that it might buy three of SeaFrance’s four ferries from the bankruptcy administrator, and lease them to the SeaFrance employees’ co-operative.
The issue has become intertwined with the French presidential campaign, with Nicolas Sarkozy saying that saving the jobs of SeaFrance’s nearly 900 employees is his “duty” as president.
Eurotunnel has stressed that its purchase of the ships will save the French jobs. But P&O Ferries has threatened court action if the acquisition appears to violate state-aid rules. Eurotunnel controls roughly 40% of the Dover-Calais market, compared to P&O’s 30%.